Aaron Douglas’ “Aspirations” is a particularly notable painting for its strong representation of central ideas from the Harlem Renaissance. This piece was created as part of the “Hall of Negro Life” at the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition. It showcases themes of African-Americans’ shared heritage and cultural identity, their progression from slavery, and their hope for a brighter future. The painting features a variety of purples, blues, and yellows, with a clear emphasis on the city on the hill. The city represents hope for African Americans in America during times when they were otherwise oppressed. Additionally, Douglas creates a link between African American and Egyptian cultures through various symbols used throughout the piece.
Through his artwork, Douglas emphasizes how Africa’s rich past inspired aspirations for a brighter future for African Americans while still undergoing significant hardships such as Jim Crow laws during the Great Depression era in America. “Aspirations” concludes a cycle of three other paintings by Douglas which also addressed similar social issues around race and segregation in America. Overall, “Aspirations” is one of Aaron Douglas’s strongest pieces that not only celebrates African American culture but also serves as an inspiration to push through oppressive times to achieve greater things in life.