Tempest of the Niger, 1964



Tempest of the Niger, 1964


James Amos Porter was the illustrious Father Of African American art history, as well as an artist, art-historian, instructor, arts administrator and artistic and cultural bridge builder. Born in Baltimore in 1905 to John Porter, a minister and Lydia Peck Porter, a schoolteacher, Porter attended public schools in the DMV area before graduating cum laude from Howard University in 1927 (Dictionary of Art Historians.) After receiving his MA from the New York University Fine Arts Graduate Center, Porter began writing Modern Negro Art, published in 1943. Modern Negro Art, considered a definitive read for those interested in African American art history explored the history of African-American art from its origin to the mid-twentieth century, and featured revealing discussions with contemporary artists such as Jacob Lawrence and Archibald Motley.
In 1963 Porter received a Faculty Research grant from the Washington Evening Star, which enabled him to go on sabbatical for a year researching African art in Ghana, Nigeria, Togo, Senegal and Sierra Leone. Accordingly, August 1963 through August 1964 “ bracket the most prolific period of Porter’s life, when he produced more paintings and drawings than in any similar year of his career” (Porter 11). Jeff R. Donaldson recalls that while Porter’s 1963 sojourn was only his second trip to Africa “his work was always influenced by African art as far back as the 1930s when he utilized African sculptural forms in…portrait and figure compositions” (Porter 11). In commenting on Porter’s 25 oil paintings and numerous drawings produced during this international trip, Donaldson relates that Porter’s works “stand in perfect balance with the portraiture and other work of his early career and at the same time, like the man himself, they fit his description of the dynamism of contemporary African art as changing in accordance with the emergent cultural patterns of a changing society (Porter 12).
Accordingly Porter’s 1964 Tempest of the Niger depicts one of a series of paintings that Porter completed during this sabbatical in Africa in 1964. In it Porter portrays a churning allegoric panorama in which the river Niger might be thought to “symbolize the ebb and flow of cultural values in West Africa” (Tempest of the Niger). The Tempest of the Niger is the most abstracted and kinetic of the series. Individual faces whirl and twirl in and out of grays and white and blues, alongside red tones. The blue background consists of a landscape with peculiarly shaped houses and structures.


James A. Porter


Justin Stafford