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Marvels of My Own Inventiveness

November 15, 2023–March 24, 2024

Marvels of My Own Inventiveness will feature an immersive viewing of approximately 22 paintings by five contemporary Black artists in the American Folk Art Museum collection: Leonard Daley, Claude Lawrence, J.B. Murray, Mary T. Smith, and Purvis Young. By positioning these artists in conversation with one another, the exhibition will explore the artistic self-expression of Black makers working in and around abstraction.

The exhibition’s title is drawn from a passage by literary critic and Black feminist scholar Hortense Spillers, whose groundbreaking 1987 essay Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book includes the statement: “in order for me to speak a truer word concerning myself, I must strip down through layers of attenuated meanings, made an excess in time, over time, assigned by a particular historical order, and there await whatever marvels of my own inventiveness.” 

Reflecting on this sentiment, the exhibition interprets “inventiveness” as a metaphor for the creative process and painterly decision-making. Through this interpretive lens, the exhibition will respond to works by each of the five artists by prioritizing a unique experiential encounter of close looking and contemplation. The show will feature paintings on view for the first time at AFAM, and include both large-scale and smaller works on paper, canvas, wood, and metal. 

The exhibition is curated by Brooke Wyatt, Luce Assistant Curator at the American Folk Art Museum (AFAM), and Sadé Ayorinde, Warren Family Assistant Curator. 

For more information, please email


Claude Lawrence (b. 1944), Ronald & Donald, The Oldest, Sag Harbor, New York, 2004. Acrylic on paper23 1/4 x 29 1/8 in. American Folk Art Museum, New York; gift of Audlyn Higgins Williams and E. T. Williams, Jr. in honor of Charles N. Adkins, American Folk Art Museum Trustee, 2015.19.5.

Mary T. Smith (1904-1995), Untitled, Hazelhurst, Mississippi. Paint on wood24 x 48 3/8 in. American Folk Art Museum, New York; gift ofHarriet G. Finkelstein, 2018.24.2.

Leonard Daley (1930-2006), Untitled, St. Catherine or Kingston, Jamaica c. 1990s. Mixed media on board, 42 1/2 x 45 1/2 in. American Folk Art Museum, New York; gift of Maurice C. and Patricia L. Thompson, 2003.20.11.


The Henry Luce Foundation seeks to enrich public discourse by promoting innovative scholarship, cultivating new leaders, and fostering international understanding. A leader in art funding since 1982, the Luce Foundation’s American Art Program supports innovative museum projects nationwide that advance art-centered conversations that celebrate creativity, explore difference, and seek common ground. Learn more at