Talking to the System

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    Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio
c. 1975
Paint on board
35 x 48 inches
Collection of
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco museum purchase American Art Trust Fund and gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation

Purvis Young was inspired by the example of Chicago Black Arts Movement, which advocated for politically engaged works that addressed African American experience, and by the city’s Wall of Respect (1967) street mural, which commemorated African American political and cultural heroes. Young also ready about artists’ reactions to the Vietnam war, and embraced the idea that art could effect social change.

Talking to the System is a depiction of three younger people, two with halos, confronting six elders. The painting pays tribute to the essential role played by young African Americans—some of them martyred—in challenging the system during the Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Young’s painting also speaks to the perennial tension between older and younger generations, a dynamic that transcends race, as evidenced by the multiracial protagonists. —Timothy Anglin Burgard