NCMA Recommends: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
James Huff, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, 1979, 61 1/4 — 40 in., oil and acrylic on canvas, Purchased with funds from the State of North Carolina and the Museum Special Gift Fund
Known for his intricate portraits of African American heritage and communal identity, James Huff captures a hopeful expression of Black manhood in this reflective piece. Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow demonstrates how Black masculinity culminates from socially constructed morals and responsibilities that include community leadership. The piece’s dreamlike sequence allows the viewer to interact with the figure’s subconscious as it looks to the future.
Huff’s figure ages from a willful child to an eager adult as visions of Africa and African masquerade, an allusion to ancestral masculine forms, ruminate in his psyche. Although the artist encourages Black men to look forward as they progress, he also challenges them to recognize the inherited experiences that determine their circumstances. –Maya Brooks, Mellon Foundation Assistant Curator
Visit the NCMA to ponder Huff’s painting and other works about growing up in To Be Young: Coming of Age in the Contemporary, on view now in West Building. And stay posted for the fall season of NCMA Cinema, which features a series of intriguing films with a coming-of-age theme.
Artists Exploring Time
As the subject of Huff’s painting inhabits the past, present, and future, artists such as Moataz Nasr, whose videos are currently on view at the NCMA, also dive deep into the conceptual richness of time in their work. Read this article to learn about Nasr and five other African artists currently exploring time.
Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow is a dream-like painting that combines recognizable images–like human faces and an African mask–with silhouettes and shapes that evoke another time, place, or state of mind. By painting these images layered on top of one another, Huff made connections between African traditions and African American progress. One of the clearest layers in this painting is the same figure shown as both a boy and man, condensing a lifetime into one picture. What could he be remembering about the past or dreaming about the future? Preview these directions from the Juneteenth NCMA To Go Activity Kit, which supplies materials to create a future portrait of yourself.
Learning from the Past
Go back in time to read this article from 1997 documenting a time when the Museum held very few works of art by African American artists: “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow is one of the few paintings by an African American artist included in the permanent collection of the N.C. Museum of Art. The painting was selected in 1979 as the first-place winner in the museum’s annual art competition; it won over about 2,500 other works.” Today the Museum collects works by a diverse group of artists, making the People’s Collection increasingly inclusive.