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Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (work of art)

Artwork Info

James Huff, (American, 1949–2017)
61 1/4 x 40 inches (155.6 x 101.6 centimeters)


Purchased with funds from the State of North Carolina and the Museum Special Gift Fund

Object Number
American North Carolina

Key Ideas about this Work of Art

  • This painting combines images of geometric forms, African art (masks), and human faces. The two faces represent the same person as a boy and as a man, showing his growth over time.
  • James Huff was a North Carolina-based African American artist. He is known for creating detailed portraits that celebrate Black identity. His paintings often feature hopeful images of strong Black men. 
  • This painting and its title highlight the connections between African traditions (the past) and African American progress (the present and future).
  • Huff won the NCMA’s yearly art competition with this painting in 1979. It was the last piece submitted on the last day of the event, and it was up against more than 2,000 other art submissions. Huff became the fifth African American artist to have a work of art featured in the NCMA’s permanent collection.
  • Huff urged museums and other art institutions to include the work of more artists of color in their collections.

Learn More

This vibrant and contemplative painting by North Carolina artist James Huff combines stylized African images and forms with a modern visual language to convey a resilient and deeply rooted expression of Black manhood.

Radiating from the center are a sequence of faces, meant to represent the same figure as both boy and man. As Huff’s figure ages, visions of Africa and African masquerade allude to ancestral masculine forms. By layering these images of past, present, and future, Huff draws connections between African diasporic traditions and African American progress.

Additional Resources

Resources for Teachers

  • Explore a website that includes articles about African American history in North Carolina.
  • Read an article about a photography project inspired by the African diaspora.
  • View a painting by Skunder Boghossian, an Ethiopian artist who taught James Huff.


Resources for Students 


  • A painting in shades of black, brown, blue, red, and yellow that includes images of human faces, geometric shapes, and African masks. At the top left, a profile view of a face overlaps a larger profile view of a face.

    Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow