In February 1971, the newly formed Delaware organization, Aesthetic Dynamics, Inc., presented its first major undertaking: the exhibition of over 130 works of art—drawings, prints, photographs, paintings, and sculpture—by 66 African American artists. Numerous factors led to artist Percy Ricks’ founding of Aesthetic Dynamics and their ambitious inaugural exhibition, most notably the trauma suffered from the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the subsequent nine-month National Guard occupation of Wilmington and Ricks’ desire to emphasize the influence of African American artists in Wilmington.
Now at its 50th anniversary, Aesthetic Dynamics, Inc. and the Delaware Art Museum are collaborating to revisit this momentous exhibition. Afro-American Images 1971: The Vision of Percy Ricks will include most of the artists who participated in the 1971 show, many known locally—Humbert Howard, Simmie Knox, Edward Loper, Sr., and Edward Loper, Jr.—as well as those recognized nationally including Romare Bearden, Sam Gilliam, Loïs Mailou Jones, Faith Ringgold, Alma Thomas, and Hale Woodruff. By rehanging the show as accurately as possible, the partnering organizations hope to examine the exhibition’s role in the Black Arts Movement as well as question why this seemingly successful event was largely neglected by historians in the decades that followed.