Romare Bearden


The twenty-one intimately scaled collages that constitute Romare Bearden’s “Bayou Fever” (1979) are vibrant, chaotic, and humid. Bearden (1911–1988) invokes religious traditions of New Orleans and the Caribbean with a riot of beautiful, sinister jewel tones. An allegory of good versus evil, the series tracks a confrontation between the Conjur Woman and the Swamp Witch—two archetypes associated with black magic—in a rural cabin in the bayou. Originally conceived as storyboards for a ballet Bearden had intended to be choreographed by Alvin Ailey, the images are, by turns, theatrical and domestic. Untitled (Wife and Child in Cabin), for example, fits in neatly with the rest of Bearden’s oeuvre, which frequently depicts household scenes culled from childhood memories. The additional artworks in the exhibition complement the themes in “Bayou Fever.” Large watercolors portray spiritual mediums, Obeah men and women, carnival performers, and other figures engaged in Afro-Caribbean rituals. Three striking gelatin silver prints show collages that incorporate Biblical themes. Prevalence of Ritual/Conjur Woman as an Angel (1964), for instance, suggests the intertwining of African customs and Christianity in the African-American experience. It’s a shame that the ballet was unrealized, as the proposed dance floats in one’s imagination while viewing the works. Happily, however, South African choreographer Dada Masilo performed, with two other dancers, her own interpretation of it at the gallery in March. —Julia Wolkoff


Pictured: Romare Bearden: Bayou Fever, Star (Star from the Heavens), 1979, collage and acrylic on fiberboard, 9 by 6 inches. Courtesy DC Moore, New York.