Modern Black Culture: The Art of Aaron Douglas

April 22, 2022 - June 19, 2022

A picture of a couple dancing, flanked by musicians

This exhibition explores how Aaron Douglas (1899-1979), one of the most important modernist artists of the Harlem Renaissance, gave visual form to the idea that Black American culture is a modern culture of diaspora. Douglas created figures that embody Pan-African ideas of Black achievement and creativity. He traced twentieth-century Black American culture and cultivated the self-image of Black Americans as a cosmopolitan cultural vanguard connected with Black people worldwide.

Through more than 40 paintings, prints, book and magazine illustrations, drawings, and other artworks, Modern Black Culture demonstrates how Douglas developed an immediately recognizable style and advanced the idea that modern Black American culture drew upon music, dance, visual art, and faith traditions developed in Black communities throughout the world. Sections of the exhibition focus on ways in which Douglas related Black Americans in the urban north with those living in the rural South, as well as with Haiti, Africa, and Egypt. Another section explores Douglas’ connections with North Carolina.

The Ackland is fortunate to have a rich and varied collection of works by Aaron Douglas on long-term loan, ranging from drawings and a sketchbook to items of applied art and a little-known version of one of his major compositions, Building More Stately Mansions. To this core group have been added works from other well-known North Carolina collections, including the Wilson Special Collections Library at UNC-Chapel Hill, the North Carolina Museum of Art, and Bennett College.

Modern Black Culture is curated by John Bowles, associate professor of African American art in the UNC-Chapel Hill Department of Art and Art History and faculty affiliate of the Institute for African American Research. Listen to an interview with John Bowles about the exhibition on WCHL by clicking the arrow below.

This exhibition is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Amy Helene Kirschke. Public Programs for this exhibition are supported by the Orange County Arts Commission.

Orange County Arts Commission logo


Friday, April 22, 3:30 p.m.
Curator’s Tour of Modern Black Culture: The Art of Aaron Douglas
With John Bowles, UNC Art History and exhibition curator

Saturday, May 21, 10-11:30 a.m.
African American Trailblazers Mural Walk
Led by artist Kiara Sanders. Cohosted by Chapel Hill Community Arts & Culture

Friday, June 3 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, June 4 at 3 p.m.
Performance: God’s Trombones
Hayti Heritage Center, Durham, NC.

Friday, June 10, 2022 | 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
2nd Friday ArtWalk: Artists’ Books Pop-Up Exhibition

Saturday, June 11, 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Art Adventures: Silhouettes
$5 or free for members; RSVP required at

Sunday, June 19, 2022 | 1-5 p.m.
Ackland F.A.M.: Juneteenth Celebration

Thursdays and Fridays, April 28-June 17, 2022 | 1:30 p.m.
Docent-led Tours of Modern Black Culture


Learn more about Aaron Douglas and the Harlem Renaissance in this Library Resource Guide (LibGuide) produced by librarians at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Wilson Special Collections Library and Sloan Art Library.

Image credit:

Aaron Douglas, American, 1899-1979, Study for a Bookplate, c. 1929, ink on paper, 7 7/8 x 10 7/16 in. (20 x 26.5 cm). Lent from a private collection, L2013.24.10