Throughout the twentieth century, African American artists traveled or permanently relocated abroad for various—but often overlapping—reasons. They sought to escape systemic racial oppression in the United States, pursue specialized artistic training, collaborate with artists with shared political ideologies, and seek inspiration from new surroundings. This exhibition highlights the impact of overseas travel on the artistic practices of ten artists who journeyed from the US to Europe, Africa, and Latin America. By focusing on printmaking, Freedom of Expression examines how artists embraced one particular medium as a vehicle for technical experimentation, personal expression, and social commentary.

Often funded through private philanthropic organizations, Black artists working from the 1920s through the 1940s were drawn to countries reputed to be welcoming to expatriates of color and where they could receive training in avant-garde styles to help them achieve new levels of international prominence. In France, Americans trained under leading Modernist artists in academies and private studios and viewed collections of African art. For some, France was a launchpad to other European visual traditions, like German Expressionism and Scandinavian folk art. Those hoping to use their practice to advance social causes traveled to Mexico, where they learned how to make prints at the Taller de Gráfica Popular—an activist printmaking collective. Later artists charted their own international paths, identifying educational opportunities and expanding their cultural horizons across the globe. The artworks in this focused exhibition provide an introduction to an expansive history of Black American artists who profited from the creative, social, and professional opportunities afforded by living overseas.

This exhibition is curated by Heather Hughes, former Kemper Assistant Curator of Academic Affairs and Exhibitions at the Davis and current Kathy and Ted Fernberger Associate Curator of Prints at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with the 2021 Davis Museum Interns—Chloe Pearce ‘21, Grey Devlin ‘22, Kay Bobb ‘23, and Uttkantha Sindhwani ‘22—with generous support from the Kemper Curator of Academic Programs Fund.