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  • Writer's pictureRossella BLUE Mocerino

Countee Cullen, Harlem and Me

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

Artist Rossella BLUE Mocerino and poet Countee Cullen
Artist Rossella BLUE Mocerino and poet Countee Cullen

I first came in contact with Harlem when I exhibited a few years ago at the 115 Street Library (now renamed The Harry Belafonte Library). I discovered some great restaurants but what made the biggest impact on me were the large photographs hanging on top of the shelves at the Library, where I was exhibiting, depicting many of Harlem’s Greats. Some were familiar to me already; others I did not know of them yet. My paintings were in very good company.

Author Zora Neale Hurston
Author Zora Neale Hurston. Photo taken while exhibiting at 115 Street Library (now Harry Belafonte Library) in 2015.

Poster for art show, Carnevale in Harlem
Poster for art show, Carnevale in Harlem

Little did I know that a few years later I would come in contact with another great figure of the Harlem Renaissance, Countee Cullen. I went to scout the art space at the Library which bears his name, located right next to The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The library itself stands on the former site of the mansion of A’lelia Walker. She was a patron of the arts and her mansion became a gathering place for the Harlem Renaissance artists and writers. Langston Hughes called Walker “the joy goddess of Harlem’s 1920s.” He wrote in his 1940 autobiography The Big Sea:

“A’Lelia Walker had an apartment that held perhaps a hundred people. She would usually issue several hundred invitations to each party. Unless you went early there was no possible way of getting in. Her parties were as crowded as the New York subway at the rush hour—entrance, lobby, steps, hallway, and apartment a milling crush of guests, with everybody seeming to enjoy the crowding.” #CounteeCullen #CounteeCullenLibrary #AleliaWalker #LangstonHughes #CounteeCullenpoetry #poemsbyCounteeCullen

The first thing I laid my eyes on entering the Countee Cullen Library was an inscription taken from one of his poems:

“We shall not always plant while others reap

The golden increment of bursting fruit,

Not always countenance, abject and mute,

That lesser men should hold their brothers cheap;

Not everlastingly while others sleep

Shall we beguile their limbs with mellow flute,

Not always bend to some more subtle brute;

We were not made to eternally weep.”

I came away from the Countee Cullen Library with the understanding

that yes, I would be exhibiting in that great space and with the knowledge that I couldn’t possibly have a show at the Countee Cullen Library without Countee Cullen. My wife who always gets my meaning, presented me with a book of poetry by Countee Cullen.

My art show, which will take place in 2019, will consist of old and new paintings including my very first triptych. The title of the show will be “Dreams in a Silken Cloth” taken from one of Cullen’s superb epitaphs.

image of painting, Venice
Venice by Rossella BLUE Mocerino

I've read the past, I've seen the present, I believe in the future
Painting, I've read the past, I've seen the present, I believe in the future by Rossella BLUE Mocerino

This poem by Countee Cullen will hang next to my triptych, To Paradise and Back. It’s so uncanny I found a Cullen’s poem that addresses so eloquently my perception of Paradise. I see it as a five star hotel. Yes it might be nice to stay there for a few days and be greeted by their courteous staff in their fine livery but after that, how boring it would be. Even with all the problems we face these days; here on earth is where we belong.

Triptych, To Paradise and Back
Triptych, To Paradise and Back by Rossella BLUE Mocerino

As Cullen ends his poem, Yet Do I Marvel with these lines:

"Yet do I marvel at this curious thing:

To make a poet black, and bid him sing!"

I could say

"Yet do I marvel at this curious thing:

To make me a woman, and bid me paint!"

Art show, Dreams in a Silken Cloth, will be held at Countee Cullen Library, 104 W 136th St, New York, NY 10030 Artist: Rossella BLUE Mocerino. Dates: May 6 - June 27, 2019


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