Kathleen Atkins Wilson created MATERNAL LOVE of Elizabeth and Mary. Maternal Love is a personal encounter with Elizabeth and Mary, about the joy of being a vessel of creation. The radiant colors being light to the spirit of their love. The African ancestral symbols of Ashanti fertility dolls and stools of authority, Chickwara heart statues, and water vessels are symbols of hope from a rich heritage for a fulfilling life. 2000
We are an oral people, and we are a visual people. Creativity is expressed in song, stylized dance, and drama to replace the harsh words we can’t speak out of fear of persecution or inadequacy. Visual art, as well as reading, broadened my horizons about the depth and breadth of people of African descent’s contributions to world civilizations. Africa is the cradle of civilization where art and artifacts still stand today as a reminder of who we are. Regardless of those who say Elizabeth Taylor is Cleopatra, our art says, “you lie.” When Hollywood proposes Julia Roberts as Harriett Tubman, or we only see her as an old woman, art reminds us she was a young woman who set out to liberate her husband. Then she returned numerous times for other family members and other enslaved persons who wanted to be free as well.
My collections convey the story of my life’s progression. Growing up in the AME church, we learned about resistance to discrimination and slavery. We understood liberation theology in the context of Richard Allen and Absalom Jones walking out of St George’s Methodist Church. They created the Free African Society and eventually, the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Religion and the struggle for the Negroes Civil Rights permeated everything we attempted to do. However, the pictures hanging on the church walls were “white Jesus.” I spent my teenage years viewing “white” Jesus at home, as well as Dr. Martin Luther King, President John F. Kennedy, and Robert Kennedy.
College debates, reading, and studying with students from various perspectives expanded my understanding of liberation theology. When Rev. James Cone wrote, “ God is Black,” I replaced “white” Jesus with the likenesses of the Egyptian son. I also gifted copies to other places where my people needed to recognize Africa as the cradle of civilization.
I’m saddened to see “white Jesus” hung in too many houses of worship. We need to see black people in exalted roles, in roles other than the stereotypical ways other cultures write about us or paint us, or even sing about us. Remember, blackface began not only to keep blacks out of the film and music industry but to blaspheme, ridicule, and promulgate black stereotypes or incite fear of the boogeyman. Sometimes ideological and practical behavior changes take time; change happens as a result of focused attention.
I consciously planned my environment to reflect my African heritage and acknowledge the artists dedicated to keeping our culture alive and vibrant through paintings, carvings, books, and song. I also desired to support the artists financially. They are the foremost caretakers of our ongoing history. History is not static; it is all around us.
I purchased art for my adult children to with which to adorn their walls. My grandchildren are growing up with visual reminders of the breadth of African and the African diaspora. When my son purchased his home in the Atlanta metro area, he called to say he was hosting a housewarming and needed some art delivered to him over the next four days. We packed up six to eight framed pieces, and my daughter drove them to Georgia. They were hung and ready for his housewarming. Since then, he has frequented galleries in the area and purchased additional pieces.
My last note on the transforming power of art is my brother-in-love. He used to laugh at me as I ran out of wall space, cluttered the halls and bathrooms, and left a few pieces in closets until other space became available whenever I gifted special people with pieces. He helped me clean out my mother’s apartment when she moved in with me. She’d been the beneficiary of numerous pieces, including a piece of which I owned three copies. He said, “ I might as well take that home with me.” Several days later, he came back and needed a few larger wooden sculptures to balance out the wall where he’d hung the picture. Over the next several months, he redecorated their home with pieces from my wall art and statuary collection. My sister, Gwen and I, laugh about his transformation from having a smattering of tasteful art in the living room to hanging colorful paintings throughout their home. He’s even purchased a few select pieces of sculpture and paintings during his annual trips to New Orleans.
Support the arts. Art is not just wall adornment. It is our living history. Have conversations, discussions, dialogue, and teach your children the transforming power of art.
-Joyce A. Brown
Joyce Brown is a motivational speaker and author who uses her creative energy to give voice and meaning to the challenges women face in all walks of life. She grew up in Rockford, Illinois in a household of strong women. She graduated from Bradley University with a B.S. and M.A. Her professional career expanded her reach into Peoria, Illinois; and Battle Creek, Michigan. Joyce obtained a Ph.D. from Western Michigan University.
She is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and has served as a direct services worker, executive director, program director for a major foundation, and an entrepreneur. Joyce has experienced many uplifting moments as a professional and as a dedicated parent and strives to bring those events and lessons to life through her characters in contemporary fiction novels she pens.