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The Freedom Principle

Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now

On the South Side of Chicago in the 1960s, African American artists and musicians grappled with new language and forms inspired by the black nationalist turn in the Civil Rights movement. The Freedom Principle, which accompanies an exhibition on the topic at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, traces their history and shows how it continues to inform contemporary artists around the world.

The book coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), a still-flourishing organization of Chicago musicians who challenge jazz’s boundaries. Combining archival materials such as brochures, photographs, sheet music, and record covers with contemporary art work that respond to the 1960s Black Arts Movement, The Freedom Principle explores this tradition of cultural expression from, as one AACM group used to put it, the “ancient to the future.” Essays by curators Naomi Beckwith and Dieter Roelstraete, AACM member and historian George Lewis, art historian Rebecca Zorach, and gallerist John Corbett accompany beautiful reproductions of work by artists such as Muhal Richard Abrams, Barbara Jones-Hogu, Cauleen Smith, Rashid Johnson, Nick Cave, and many more. A roundtable conversation features Beckwith, Roelstraete, curator Hamza Walker, current AACM member and cellist Tomeka Reid, and scholar and curator Romi Crawford, with additional comments from poet and scholar Fred Moten. A chronology and curated playlist of AACM-related recordings are also included. The resulting book offers a rich sense of a global movement, with crucial roots in Chicago, driven by a commitment to experimentation, improvisation, collective action, and the pursuit of freedom.

See sample pages from the book (PDF format).

320 pages | 300 color plates | 8 x 10 | © 2015

Art: American Art, Art--General Studies

Black Studies

Chicago and Illinois

Music: General Music


“Brings to light the impact of the mid-20th-century Black Arts Movement on later generations of artists. Curators Beckwith and Roelstraete make salient connections between celebrated contemporary artists such as Emilio Cruz, Nick Cave, and Glenn Ligon and lesser-studied figures of the early movement. . . . Recommended.”


“Astounding. . . . Fuses the history of music and the history of art into a single, more complete narrative, and makes it look easy.”

Guardian, on the exhibition

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