Tate Modern, London
Civil rights meet aesthetics in this riveting survey of 20 crucial years of black American art and struggle
A man with shades and a perfectly picked afro stands against a flat silver background. He is dressed in a Superman T-shirt. His muscular arms are folded in a painting as sharply defined as a medieval icon, yet as modern as his aviator shades. The canvas, from 1969, is highly stylised and irreducibly cool.
This is the self-portrait of Barkley L Hendricks, who died in April at the age of 72. Its visual double take – black man in white man’s costume, and in his painterly tradition – is multiplied by the mordant title. Icon for My Man Superman (Superman Never Saved Any Black People – Bobby Seale) quotes a famous remark of the founder of the Black Panthers. But Hendricks has no need of Superman. He saves himself – hero of his own fiercely intelligent painting.