Really Free: The Radical Art of Nellie Mae Rowe


Really Free: The Radical Art of Nellie Mae Rowe


Untitled (Look Back in Wonder at How I Got Over)

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Object Details


Nellie Mae Rowe, American, 1900–1982




Crayon, marker, pen, and colored pencil on paper


18 x 23 1/2 inches


Gift of Judith Alexander

Accession #


Image Copyright

© Estate of Nellie Mae Rowe/High Museum of Art, Atlanta.


Said to have been her last, this work was inspired by the gospel anthem popularized by Mahalia Jackson, “How I Got Over.” Rowe’s strong yellow invokes “the streets of gold” that line “the homeland of the soul,” described in the song. Along with reds and greens, the yellow also recalls the colors of the Pan-African flag. Rowe’s central serpentine creature wears the double crown of ancient Egyptian kings, locating her scene within the Book of Exodus, which was often used in African American religion and visual art to frame their modern struggle for freedom. She casts Moses as a brown man parting the crosshatched Red Sea to finally reach the Promised Land.