Spanning the racial divide through art

Margaret Burroughs has created many of her own works of art as well. In one of Burroughs’ linocuts, “Birthday Party,” both black and white children are seen celebrating. The black and white children are not isolated from each other; instead they are intermixed and mingling around the table together waiting for birthday cake. An article published by The Art Institute of Chicago described Burroughs’ “Birthday Party and said, “Through her career, as both a visual artist and a writer, she has often chosen themes concerning family, community, and history. ‘Art is communication,’ she has said. ‘I wish my art to speak not only for my people – but for all humanity.’ This aim is achieved in Birthday Party, in which both black and white children dance, while mothers cut cake in a quintessential image of neighbors and family enjoying a special day together”.

Burroughs was impacted by Harriet Tubman, Gerard L. Lew, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, and W.E.B. Du Bois. In Eugene Feldman’s “The Birth and Building of the DuSable Museum” he writes about the influence Du Bois had on Burroughs’ life. Feldman believes that Burroughs greatly admired Du Bois and writes that she campaigned to bring him to Chicago to lecture to audiences. Feldman wrote, “If we read about ‘cannabalistic and primitive Africa,’…It is a deliberate effort to put down a whole people and Dr. Du Bois fought this… Dr. Burroughs saw Dr. Du Bois and what he stood for and how he suffered himself to attain exposure of his views. She identified entirely with this important effort.” Therefore, Burroughs clearly believed in Dr. Du Bois and the power of his message.

In many of Burroughs’ pieces, she depicts people with half black and half white faces. In “The Faces of My People” Burroughs carved five people staring at the viewer. One of the women is all black, three of the people are half black and half white and one is mostly white. While Burroughs is attempting to blend together the black and white communities, she also shows the barriers that stop the communities from uniting. None of the people in “The Faces of My People” are looking at each other, and this implies a sense of disconnect among them. On another level, “The Faces of My People deals with diversity. An article from “The Collector Magazine” website describes Burroughs’ attempts to unify in the picture. The article says, “Burroughs sees her art as a catalyst for bringing people together. This tableau of diverse individuals illustrates her commitment to mutual respect and understanding”.

Burroughs once again depicts faces that are half black and half white in “My People.” Even though the title is similar to the last piece, the woodcut has some differences. In this scene, there are four different faces – each of which is half white and half black. The head on the far left is tilted to the side and close to the head next to it. It seems as both heads are coming out of the same body – taking the idea of split personalities to the extreme. The women are all very close together, suggesting that they relate to each other. In “The Faces of My People” there were others pictured with different skin tones, but in “My People” all of the people have the same half black and half white split. Therefore, “My People” focuses on a common conflict that all the women in the picture face.