Since the Black Panther first blasted onto the pages of “Fantastic Four #52” in 1966 as Marvel’s first black superhero, the role of African Americans in comic books has grown, evolved and contributed to racial awareness in the United States.
Throughout February, the University of Rhode Island Department of Art and Art History has been exploring the representations, cultural significance and development of black superheroes in the public consciousness through its exhibit, “Black Superheroes: From the Comic Book Universe to the College Campus.”
Presented in the main gallery of the URI Fine Arts Center, 105 Upper College Road, the show includes seminal black comic book superheroes such as Black Panther, Black Lightning, Storm, Luke Cage, Blade, the Falcon, Nubia and others, and celebrates black superheroes as a powerful source of racial meaning and imagination in American history.
“Falcon, for instance, appeared in 1969, at a time when African Americans were first experiencing upward mobility in America,” said Bob Dilworth, gallery coordinator and URI professor of art and art history. “He was the first African American superhero who could fly, so he was very symbolic.”
Clarissa Walker, URI doctoral candidate and the show’s curatorial researcher, noted that while comic books may be seen as a pastime for adolescent boys, these characters help shape social and political perspective and black identity. The exhibition aims to spark dialogue on issues such as equality, forgiveness, community, and racial justice.
“It’s important that visual rhetoric gets the credit it deserves with regard to the impact it has on culture and perceptions,” Walker said. “I hope that people can see this is tethered to something that is very political and has socioeconomic implications, that it’s not just cartooning.
As part of the show, which opened to the community Feb. 4, several speaking events have been scheduled, including Dr. Jeffery Brown and Dr. Adilifu Nama’s closing address, “The Academic Implications of Black Heroism,” Tuesday, Feb. 17 in the Agnes G. Doody Auditorium in Swan Hall, 60 Upper College Road in Kingston, from 6:30 to 8 p.m.
Nama is the author of the groundbreaking book, Super Black: American Pop Culture and Black Superheroes. Brown’s research activities include gender and body issues in film, corporate media culture, the role of vision in popular culture, urban ethnography and comic book studies, and he has a chapter titled, “Panthers and Vixens: Black Superheroines, Sexuality, and Stereotypes in Contemporary Comic Books” in the collection titled, Black Comics: Politics of Race and Representation.
The department of art and art history thanks the following cosponsors for their support: Africana Studies, The College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Office, Gender and Women Studies and The Time Capsule.
The University of Rhode Island Department of Art and Art History has been exploring the representations, cultural significance and development of black superheroes in the public consciousness through its exhibit, “Black Superheroes: From the Comic Book Universe to the College Campus.” The exhibit is open through Feb. 20 in the Main Gallery of URI's Fine Arts Center, 105 Upper College Road in Kingston.
Photos by Nora Lewis