Roland Ayers, Paul Robeson

Lithograph (Artist’s Proof)
Credit Line
Museum purchase with funds generously provided by Robert and Frances Kohler, 2021
20 in. diameter

This lithograph was printed at Brandywine Workshop and Archives. It was used as a poster for Moonstone Arts Center in Philadelphia, which hosted a Paul Robeson Festival for eight years. Robeson was a professional athlete, Shakespearean actor, Hollywood star, operatic singer, cultural scholar, and political activist. Ayers’s depiction of him is based on well-known photographs from throughout Robeson’s life: a man of letters and a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Rutgers College and Columbia University, a football star, a leader of people, and as Othello in the costume he wore for a production at New York’s Shubert Theatre, which was the longest-running Shakespeare play in Broadway history. African sculpture around the edge of the tondo may be a reference to Robeson’s father, an enslaved man of Igbo descent who escaped to freedom and became a minister in Princeton, New Jersey.

During the 1940s, Robeson’s anti-racist and anti-colonialist activities brought him to the attention of Senator Joseph McCarthy, who persecuted him as a threat to American democracy. Although he fought back, Robeson eventually retired to Philadelphia and lived in self-imposed seclusion in his sister’s home at Walnut and 49th Streets until his death in 1976.   


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