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The Independent Online
With the dawning of the Jazz Age in the early 1920s, African-American artists, writers and musicians flocked to one district of New York - Harlem. A city within a city, this "Mecca of the New Negro" became the centre for a cultural revolution, with artists such as Duke Ellington and Bessie Smith, Langston Hughes and Aaron Douglas converging in an extravagant blossoming of talent. Rhapsodies in Black, a new multi-media exhibition at London's Hayward Gallery, celebrates this crucial moment in modern American history. While archive film, music and photographs recreate the excitement of 1920s Harlem, canny transatlantic curation considers the work of African-American painters (see front cover), and sculptors in the light of a black diaspora that spread way beyond Harlem's three square miles. James VanDerZee's remarkable photographs (left) provide a snapshot of a boom town. Home to actor Paul Robeson and dancer Josephine Baker, its jumping, jazzy nightlife fascinated cultural tourists such as Edward Burra and rebel heiress Nancy Cunard, while white hepsters packed out the Cotton Club, a segregated venue where the racial division fell neatly into talented black musicians and their pasty Prohibition audiences. Bursting with creativity, "Renaissance" Harlem meant, according to poet Langston Hughes, that it was suddenly "in vogue to be a Negro", yet many of the African-Americans who moved there were escaping the racial persecution of the Deep South. Rarely seen paintings by artists such as Jacob Lawrence illustrate how this new generation expressed a new racial pride. For the first time, artists were defining themselves, rather than mimicking European styles or watching themselves caricatured by white artists. Along with two 11ft canvases from Harlem's public library which haven't been seen for over 50 years, Rhapsodies in Black will feature a segment from the first African-American feature film, and swinging sounds of blackness curated by blues man Paul Oliver. "Let's do the impossible. Let's create something trancendentally material, mystically objective ..." said artist Aaron Douglas in 1926. No doubt the Hayward is hoping their new display will do the same.

South Bank, London SE1 (0171-928 3144) 19 Jun-17 Aug