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Unchained: Artist’s Exhibition Reflects Spirituality, Black Activism

Tyronda James

Allan Rohan Crite, American (1910-2007), Marble Players, 1938, Oil on canvas, Boston Athenaeum. Photo courtesy of the Munson-Williams-Proctor Museum of Art.

Allan Rohan Crite was a Boston-based African American artist, whose art reflects the pursuit for racial justice for African Americans in the years leading up to the Civil Rights Movement.

Crite’s first exhibition, “Unchained: Allan Rohan Crite, Spirituality and Black Activism,” is currently on view  February 20 through May 8 at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Museum of Art and will explore his spiritual art.

The exhibition brings together more than 60 of Crite’s paintings, watercolors and works on paper revealing the connections between his art and faith. The thoughtful gallery design reflecting Crite’s deeply spiritual vision will feature two complete sets of his Stations of the Cross, the Christian milestones that mark Christ’s journey on Good Friday. Unchained is the first exhibition to bring these works together, enabling the viewer to compare the Christian struggle with the Black experience as Crite intended.

According to AskArt, March 21, 2008, Crite explained his body of work as having a common theme: 

“I’ve only done one piece of work in my whole life and I am still at it. I wanted to paint people of color as normal humans. I tell the story of man through the black figure.” 

Allan Crite committed his artistic, creative career to the creation of inspirational art for African American communities.

Allan Rohan Crite, American (1910-2007) Stations of the Cross XII: Jesus Dies on the Cross, 1947 Linoleum cut with watercolor, 24 9/16 x 12 3/16 in. Courtesy of St. John St. James Episcopal Church, Roxbury, Massachusetts Reproduced with permission © 2022 Allan Rohan Crite Research Institute and Library. All rights reserved. Photo courtesy of the Munson-Williams-Proctor Museum of Art.

Crite’s art provides a means to challenge caricatures of Black people in popular culture as well as the prejudice of his white audiences in general. His artist’s impression of a Black Jesus in his illustrated works presents an African American interpretation of Christianity. 

Crite interweaves faith, identity and community within his art in hopes of  empowering those who view his art to restore hope and overcome conflict. Also, providing a channel for community building necessary in the struggle for racial justice.

Unchained is one in a series of American art exhibitions created through a multi-year, multi-institutional partnership formed by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, as part of the Art Bridges Initiative.

In the development of the “Unchained: Allan Rohan Crite, Spirituality and Black Activism,” the staff at Munson-Williams Museum looked for insight and counsel from the Institute’s African American Community Partners. The Institute is a group made up of local civic and business leaders, students, college professors and musicians, who offer advice on developing genuine engagement with Utica’s African American community. 

“Allan Rohan Crite’s work is both expressive and poignant,” Anna D’Ambrosio, Munson-Williams President and CEO said. 

“His art builds a bridge from historical Biblical moments to everyday life today.”

Crite was born March 20, 1910 in Plainfield, New Jersey and later moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where he passed away in his sleep of natural causes on September 6, 2007. 

Allan Rohan Crite, American (1910-2007), Harriet and Leon, 1941, Oil on canvas, Boston Athenaeum. Photo provided courtesy of the Munson-Williams-Proctor Museum of Art.

He attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, the Massachusetts School of Art, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School and Harvard University; he received degrees from Boston and Harvard. 

Crite’s imagery expands the definition of 20th-century art by exploring the relationship between the Black struggle and Biblical stories, spirituals and everyday street scenes. Crite’s spiritual art also played an important role in fostering moral resilience during the years that Black churches laid the foundation for the crusade that would transform the political and religious landscape of America: the Civil Rights Movement, according to the Munson-Williams-Proctor Museum of Art media release.

“Crite’s religious imagery was progressive in that it shows Jesus as white, Black, or indigenous to the Americas because he believed the Christian story to be both historical and eternal, relevant for all people.”

The Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute is located at 310 Genesee Street, Utica, NY. 13502. Visit for further exhibition information.