SHOULD AN off-earth visitor arrive wishing to know something of this spinning mote of matter which is the human home, I would direct the questioner to African American Women's art.
If the visitor sought to understand the depth of strength in the human heart, I would direct the quester to search in African American Women's art.
If the quester became interested in the artful resilience displayed by African Americans in their centuries- long sojourn over the planet, I would first say to the inquirer that African American art and culture are not separate nor can they be separated. Each form enriches the next, so even as we sing, we dance; even as we sculpt, we draw; as we sing praises to Heaven, we sing the blues about life here below. And at our best, we accept art in our lives, and we are indebted to the art of living for we have survived with passion, compassion, humor, and style.
The seeker should pursue answers on African American survival in the words of Margaret Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Mari Evans; in the choreography of Katherine Dunham, Pearl Primus, and Judith Jamison; in the vocal genius of Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, and Leontyne Price; in the compositions of Mary Lou Williams, Undine Moore, and Margaret Bond; in the dramatic art of Diana Sands, Louise Beavers, and Alfre Woodard; in the mental clarity of Mary McLeod Bethune, Ida Wells Barnett, and Dorothy Height.
The curiosity of the unearthly inquirer would be piqued to see this frail, shattery, flabby creature; this human who was enslaved by fellow humans who themselves worshipped liberty withstand the greed and cruelty of slavery to survive as a celebration of life.
I would point the querist to the graphic art of the African American women shown in this catalogue. The art was evoked, defined, and praised in our great spirituals written long before these women were born, proving that our art is interdependent.
We are reminded of the spiritual which states that "We have had to make a way out of no way. We had to take nothing and make everything."
In the lyrical canvas of Lois Mailou Jones, the phrase that explains how we have kept lyricism in our lives is "Over my head, I hear music in the air."
Elizabeth Catlett's vibrant strength in sculpture and drawings can be heard in the divine order to Moses to "Go down, way down in Egypt land and let my people go."
Selma Burke's majestic sculpture brings to mind the heroic line, "I'm a child of the King. I'm a child of the King. With Jesus my Savior, I'm a child of the King."
Great and glorious are the artists gathered here, and great and glorious are their contributions.
If there is no extraterrestrial to question us and start our imaginations to whir, we may be satisfied to say, "Our souls look back and wonder at how we got over."
Some of the answers to that question can be found here in this catalogue.