In this horizontally expansive work, Bearden pays tribute to Harlem, which was where he lived as a young teen as well as where he established his first studio in 1940 on 125th Street, the heart of Harlem. Bearden resided within the same building as the artist Jacob Lawrence and the novelist Claude McKay, who became tight friends with Bearden and showed a similar commitment to the arts and residents of Harlem in their art. During the 1930s, Bearden was active in the artists' organization 306 Group and the Harlem Artists Guild. Even when he relocated downtown to Canal Street on the Lower East Side, Bearden continued to socialize, organize, and exhibit in Harlem, the nation's black capital. Bearden broke the long horizontal format into six equal parts, each exploring a distinct Harlem mainstay: brick tenement apartments, an evangelical church, stoops, a barbershop, a liquor store, and a funeral parlor. The push-pull to the composition, or the variation between the interior and exterior worlds, reveal in the cutouts private moments of worship, lovemaking, and children at play, or as Bearden expressed, "the lives [the buildings] contained within their walls." This rhythm of call and response, through positive and negative space, are elements of church services and jazz improvisations. When originally exhibited, a soundtrack of city noises accompanied and activated the work.
Cut and pasted print, colored and metallic papers, Photostats, graphite, ink marker, gouache, watercolor, and ink on Masoniterials - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York