Stevens, Nelson (Uhuru)
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The birth of the 1960's Black Arts Movement ignited an important cultural event among its participants. Many African American musicians, poets, writers, and visual artists began to turn their craft to address themes of Black pride, self-determination, and Black culture. Emerging from this movement was a unique Chicago-based artists' collective, calling themselves first COBRA (Coalition of Black Revolutionary Artists) in 1968 and then in 1969, AfriCOBRA (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists). In Evanston, Illinois from February 17 to March 17, the Dittmar Memorial Gallery in the Norris University Center at Northwestern University displayed a retrospective of selected works from this group. The exhibited artists included Jeff Donaldson, Wadsworth Jarrell, Barbara Jones-Hogu, Jae Jarrell, Gerald Williams, Carolyn Lawrence, Nelson Stevens, Napoleon Jones-Henderson, Howard Mallory, Frank Smith, James Phillips, and Murry Depillars.
The colors in Nelson Stevens's 1971 screen print entitled "Uhuru" challenged my preconceptions of portraiture. Stevens, who joined AfriCOBRA in 1969, is credited with contributing the principle of "shine" to the collective's school of thought. "Shine" refers to the Afros and newly-shined shoes worn by Black folk. "Uhuru" shined with kinetic shape and color, forming the heroic, visionary gaze of a proud, Afro-adorned male, his eyes set toward the future of Africans throughout the Diaspora. Black Arts Movement theorist Larry Neal's reference to these artists as "visual griots" and "image makers" is exemplified in "Uhuru," which shouts with 21st century hope and solutions.