Eleven Established Artists Dare Their Audience to Revisualize Art in the Spirit of the Lord

By Gaither, Edmund | American Visions, December-January 1992 | Go to article overview

Eleven Established Artists Dare Their Audience to Revisualize Art in the Spirit of the Lord


Gaither, Edmund, American Visions


Since re-encountering Christianity in the Americas, blacks have sought historical location, as well as spiritual and psychological validation in the Bible. This quest has been frustrated by the ill use of Christian text to justify slavery, as well as the misrepresentation of ancient black history, and cultural clashes deriving from differing assumptions regarding the nature of worship. In this context, "Art in the Service of the Lord," the 1993 fine art calendar depicting religious themes from an African-American perspective, opens daring possibilities for reinterpreting biblical narratives.

"Re-encountering Christianity" accurately describes the black American search for a Christian place because, in fact, blacks were present at the launching of this faith. The New Testament world of the apostles was Africa, the Near East, Greece and Rome. All had resident and travelling populations of black people who were frequently identified as Ethiopians. When a larger historical view is taken, it becomes clear that blacks were vital players in the world that created the texts on which Christianity rests. Old and New Testament Accounts document the interplay of black peoples and nations in the lives and times of the biblical world.

Knowledge of the black presence in early Christianity is represented in European treatments of several Christian themes. Witness the frequent presence of Melchior, the black Magus, among the Three Wise Men at the Nativity scene. Note the striking tradition of black Madonnas in places such as Poland. Look at Roman and Hellenistic literature and art, which depict blacks in numerous roles, ranging from statesmen to athletes. These images of blacks in roles central to Christian iconography did not cross the Atlantic, and thus blacks in the Americas were converted to a religion that offered no reflection of them in its art.

In the wake of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, huge numbers of black people throughout the Americas accepted Christianity in one form or another. …

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Eleven Established Artists Dare Their Audience to Revisualize Art in the Spirit of the Lord
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