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: New at the Institute


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Factory Workers, a gouache drawing of 1942, is one of about 20 large-scale works that Romare Bearden completed in the early 1940s. Commissioned by Fortune magazine, the drawing served as the frontispiece for the June 1942 article "The Negro's War," which detailed the high social and financial costs of racial discrimination during wartime and forcefully and persuasively advocated the full integration of the American workplace. Painted on brown kraft paper in muted colors, Factory Workers is a somber, yet dignified portrayal of the plight of many African-American workers during World War II. Here Bearden depicts black job seekers who are denied work at a steel mill and who experience firsthand the frustrations resulting from discrimination in hiring. By implication, this lack of progress for blacks in the workplace reflects the larger state of race relations in mid-century America. Bearden skillfully evokes the emotions this situation fosters through the facial expressions and gestures of his figures, drawn in a simplified representational style. This artistic style—generally known as social realism because of its overtly political subject matter—was popular in the United States during the 1930s and early 1940s, particularly among artists who participated in the government-sponsored Federal Arts Project.Typical of his finest work of the 1940s, Factory Workers was one of three Bearden pictures included in a January 1945 exhibition held at the Albany Institute of History and Art in New York titled "The Negro Artists Comes of Age," representing 31 leading contemporary African-American artists. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts acquired Factory Workers in 1922 through the generous support of the Regis Corporation. It is currently on view in the museum's Dayton Hudson Gallery as part of the exhibition "Made in America."
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Source: "New at the Institute: Romare Bearden's <i>Factory Workers,</i>" <i>Arts</i> 18, no. 2 (February 1995): 18.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009