In anticipation of the world premiere of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s AN OCTOROON on April 23, Soho Rep. has created a glossary of interesting terminology and ideas related to the play to give you some context for what you are about to see. We will be displaying these glossary subjects throughout the run of the play. Stay tuned for more as we get going with Branden’s fascinating take on early American drama and a host of other things.
We wanted to start with something visual. Below you will find astonishing oil-portraits of octoroon women by Harlem Renaissance painter Archibald John Motley, Jr.
Archibald John Motley Jr. was born in 1891 in New Orleans and was raised in Chicago. He studied art at the Institute of Chicago and in 1928, became the second African American artist to have a solo exhibition in New York City. After winning a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1929, Motley left for Paris where he painted Parisian genre scenes. When Motley returned to Chicago in 1930, he began painting portraits and genre scenes of the African American community in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. Although he never lived in Harlem, his depiction of contemporary African American social life identified him with the Harlem Renaissance. Motley was also known for his work on the famous murals that came out of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). For the WPA he painted murals in an Illinois public school. In 1928 he won the Harmon Foundation gold medal for his portrait “The Octoroon Girl”. In 1933 he was hired by the easel division of the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) and in 1935 he completed murals for music room at Nichols School, Evanston, IL. Due to financial problems in 1949 he accepted a job painting shower curtains for Styletone, maker of hand-painted shower curtains. He died in Chicago in 1981.