Creation

The Flowering of Truth

INSPIRATION

The impetus for this work has been part of an ongoing struggle. A struggle that has been uniquely mine yet paradoxically experienced by each of us at various points throughout life. From the earliest stages of human development, each of us learns about self through the experience of contrast between us and that which is other. A baby begins to comprehend the difference between self and mother through the contrasts created by the touch. sight, and sound of its mother versus that of its own. Later in life, we often learn to distinguish who we are through the experience of contrast between the ways others (friends, parents, classmates…) are like us or different from us.
 
This process of self-discovery continues throughout the life cycle because each of us is always changing. The person you were at 3 is still present within your DNA and consciousness but is definitely not the same person who is reading this post right now. This process of continual growth and deepening consciousness requires that we not only discover who we are in terms of likes and preferences but also necessitates that we come to know self with depth and profundity. In a sense, one could postulate that we don’t actually learn who we truly are, but rather that we find the courage and strength to discover, and then become who we truly are. That living a conscious life is a continual process of becoming or embodying the spiritual beings whom we truly are.
  
As our eternal being, our essence becomes more fully integrated and embodied within us it shines forth more brightly through us under the guise of personality. In order for this to occur, we must first find the willingness to look within, the strength to face what we find there, and finally the courage to be that person in the world regardless of what others may say or think about us because of it. This kind of courage requires that we commit ourselves to complete truth and authenticity in all of our interactions. That you find the courage and commitment to be and do YOU in every aspect of your life – no matter what the circumstances. No facades, no compromises to get along, no hiding how you really feel or think to fit in, no holding back your truth for another’s sake…etc. I’m talking about having the courage and determination to be who you are in every way you can, under any and all circumstances.
 
Each of us has the right and the responsibility, to be who we are and do what we want as long as we are honest and forthright in our intentions, and do not hurt or harm others in the process. This kind of freedom can only be achieved by operating from a level of truth and authenticity that most of us are not willing to live from.  In my opinion, this is the kind of commitment to truth and authenticity which lies at the core of 5th chakra symbolism.  
The 5th chakra’s core principle is truth. It is the first chakra to move us beyond the boundaries of our physicality and connect us to the higher realms of consciousness by acting as a conduit for the expression of vibration, sound, and speech. Thus it is associated with the throat, neck thyroid, shoulders, arms, and hands. When we deny the truth within ourselves, or continually speak or act in ways which lack integrity or truth this chakra can easily become clogged or choked thereby weakening its’ vibration. When fully opened, this chakra gives one the courage and commitment to express one’s self in truth and authenticity.  
This has been the focus of my struggle. To not only know, “Who I am” but to strive to authentically “be me” in all situations and circumstances. To stop worrying about, “how others view me or my art?” If speaking my truth will cost me friends or prestige? Will people not like me if I show them who I really am or what I’m about? To be true to self is the simplest yet most difficult of endeavors. This year I am determined to open and clear this chakra. To let the real me shine forth and open up like as a flower opens to the receive the rays of the morning sun! To open to my truth, and express that authenticity in all my interactions. This is the Flowering of Truth.

flowering-of-truth-72-5

SYMBOLISM

The symbolism within this work is focused on truth. The large lotus symbol floating above the figure is a reinterpretation of the 5th chakra symbol. The deep cerulean blue is one of the colors associated with the chakra. The symbol found within the inner flower is the Bija symbol (or seed sound) “Ham”. When repeated, this sound is the key used to activate the chakra and unlock its power. The symbol eye-like piece above symbol is my own additive that which is reminiscent of omniscient divine presence. The white outline used to outline the flower is symbolic of the full moon which is also part of the chakra’s symbolism. T

The flower upon which the figure sits is also a lotus. I purposely used the varying shades of blue for this composition since the primary colors associated with the chakra are cerulean blue and turquoise. This flowering lotus is opening because the figure seated upon it is chanting the seed sound “Ham” as a mantra as she meditates upon the qualities associated with the 5th chakra. 

Since the seated figure is meditating upon the 5th chakra and chanting its’ seed sound, I chose the lift her head and expose her neck – the primary body part associated with the 5th chakra. I intentionally placed the tale end of the seed symbol in the lotus above her head near the figure’s throat in order to further accentuate her neckline and the connection between sound/mantra, the symbol, and the chakra’s connection to the throat. 

My intention was to strike a balance between the areas that were more highly rendered (the opening lotus and the figure’s flesh) and the more graphic areas (the lotus above the figure and the figure’s clothing in order to create a visually energetic push-and-pull between the various portions of the composition. This tension helps to create a downward movement which draws the eye from the face down through the opening lotus. I chose to keep the background soft and muted so that it would not distract from the main focal point of the composition – the meditating figure.

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The Resurrection of Love: Birth, Death & Resurrection

INSPIRATION

As I sit here contemplating what I would like to share about this triptych, I am filled with a sense of wonder and irony. It was around this time last Spring that I was inspired to create these panels. I was compelled by my own personal desire to receive and express love more deeply in every aspect of my life. What better time to do so than the outset of Spring – when the earth itself is being reborn from winter’s death-like grip. A time of rejuvenation, rebirth, and resurrection. There is something about Spring which never fails to revitalize the spirit and fill the air with excitement and anticipation.

As I began to think and read about love, I was drawn to the words of Rumi, “I have no companion but love, no beginning, no end, no dawn. The soul calls from within me: ‘You, ignorant of the way of love, set me free’.” Love has no beginning or end because love is all there is. Love is free for the taking if we would just open ourselves to receive it. But we often travel through life as if we are completely void of the very thing we crave so desperately. If we would simply take the time to look within, listen to our souls, and set free the love already within us, we would surprisingly find more of it everywhere we look.

From a metaphysical perspective love never ends. But it is often born, dies, and is resurrected within the context of our material human experience. This realization was the impetus for my decision to depict the cycle of love in 3 stages: Birth, Death, and Resurrection. The symbolism here lies within the number 3 and the connection between the Christian Trinity, and Jesus’ own birth, death, and resurrection here upon the material plane. It also mimics the cycle of nature (Summer, Winter, Spring) and many of our relationships with others.

SYMBOLISM

Colors

The color palette was chosen based upon the following color symbolism: white = pure spiritual light which like the sun contains the entire spectrum of colors, purple = a karmic and auric color which is indicative of spiritual depth and power, pink = associated with spiritual enlightenment and the crown chakra, lavender/deep rose pink = is often associated with divine love, red = the root chakra which is associated erotic love and life-force, and deep purple = which is often associated with death or the absence of light within the cosmos.

Imagery

Given the metaphysical nature of the subject my initial inclination was to use abstract imagery, or to work with a more Jesus-like figure to represent love. However, as I continued to read and meditate upon the topic, I came to the realization that the characteristics most associated with love are more easily recognized within the feminine. Openness, expansion, mutuality, inclusion,  sacrifice, nurturing, care, acceptance…are all characteristics which led me to personify love within a female figure.  I often speak with God using female metaphors, so it was/is easy for me to translate this use into feminine imagery.

The aureole which surrounds each figure is symbolic of spiritual power surrounding and sustaining the physical form. Despite the figure being human it is filled with  supra-natural power that manifests itself in the aureole-like form.

Birth

Birth

“Love is the path and direction of our Prophet. We are born from Love; Love is our mother. O Mother, hidden behind the body’s veil, concealed by our own cynical nature.” Rumi

Although “Birth” is the 1st piece in the tryptic it was actually the second image I created. My process is often very intuitive and I work upon whatever image or concept I feel most drawn to in the moment. This image is primarily about incarnation as Love is birthed into physical form. The nebulous darkness represents the spiritual realms, the unseen from which Love fashions itself ex nihilo (out of nothing). The viewer is here to witness love’s creation and evolution into physical form. That which is eternal in power and principle, without flesh becomes incarnate to dwell with and among its creation as Love, in love. The remaining pictorial landscape is purposely nondescript and abstract in order to maintain the figure as the primary focal point within the visual narrative. The aureole manifests itself from the portion of the figure which has become flesh (right side) since it is not needed within the spiritual realm.

Death

Death

“Come and be Love’s willing slave, for Love’s slavery will save you. Forsake the slavery of this world and take up Love’s sweet service. The freedom of the world enslaves, but to slaves Love grants freedom. I crave release from this world like a bird from its egg; free me from this shell that clings. As from the grave, grant me the new life. O Love, O quail in the free fields of spring, wildly sing songs of joy.” Rumi

In this image Love is surrendering its’ self to the forces of nonbeing. She is not being killed or forced to surrender herself, but does so of her own volition. Thus Love’s death represents a sacrificial act of self-emptying and surrender of her own physical presence. She does not do so alone as she is surrounded by, and presided over by the four spiritual beings whom are depicted in silhouette in the darkness above the figure.  These faces watch and preside over this act of holy sacrifice as guides and witnesses. The aureole is now red in association with the exiting life force/spirit and the passion of sacrificial death. Notice Love’s Spirit (in red) rises up to join the other spirits as both physical being and eternal observer.

Resurrection

Resurrection

“The moment I first heard of love I gave up my soul, my heart, and my eyes. I wondered, could it be that the lover and the beloved are two? No, they have always been one. It is I who have been seeing double.” Rumi

Although last in the tryptic, “Resurrection” was the first panel I painted.  In this panel Love has been reborn within the physical realm. The solitary figure stands alone striding between the sensual and supra-sensual realms. Once again the aureole is now present in pink and white. Loves physical presence casts a shadow upon the shores as her feet leave traces in the sands. In this panel omniscient divine eyes both see and know self as eternal lover and mortal beloved.

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Exodus: A Visual Interpretation of the Biblical Book

Any examination of Black American history reminds us that the bible has always been a treasure trove of artistic inspiration within the Back community. Leslie King Hammond reminds us that “The narrative and moral parables of this sacred text provided…visual artists…with contextual and thematic strategies to artistically express their responses to the awesome and incongruous realities of the Africa-American experience.” One of the central themes in Black American theology-freedom has been a source of inspiration for Black American artists of every kind.  It was the desire for freedom which inspired some of our nation’s most treasured forms of art, the Negro Spirituals.

A BLACK AMERICAN SPIRITUAL 

Go Down Moses, Way down in Egyptland Tell old Pharaoh, “Let my people go”

When Israel was in Egyptland, “Let my people go” Oppressed so hard they could not stand, “Let my people go”

“Thus saith the Lord,” bold Moses said, “Let my People go: If not I’ll smite your first-born dead, “Let my people go”

“No more shall they in bondage toil, Let my people go, Let them come out with Egypt’s spoil, Let my people go”

The Lord told Moses what to do, “Let my people go” To lead the children of Israel through, “Let my people go”

Go down Moses, Way down in Egyptland, Tell old Pharaoh, “Let my people go”

This spiritual is a very poignant reminder of what I believe to be my task as a Black American artist and theologian. To speak whenever and wherever I can, to those who abuse their power in a manner which limits the freedom of others. With that thought in mind, part of my goal has been to attempt re-interpreting and re-creating biblical texts and themes into forms which are more reflective of modern life. This process must go beyond merely putting the same ideas and events into a contemporary setting, or simply depicting the characters with Negroid features (blackenizing) to the creation of new images and symbols which speak on their own terms.

In many ways. I am attempting to apply and illustrate theological and sermonic principles into the creation of my art. For me this process is primarily as one of prophetic proclamation using visual media. In my efforts to achieve this goal, I realize that my interpretations will always be filtered through my own being, personality, and experiences. I see this as an interpretive asset which helps to authenticate my vision.

Keeping the above in mind, one of my main goals with this creation was to re-interpret the Exodus narrative holistically using graphic, symbolic, imagery which focused upon divine action, presence, and liberation.

EXODUS

EXODUS

SYMBOLISM

Most of the works which I encountered in my research seemed to focus upon either the person of Moses, or a single event within the Exodus narrative. These positions de-emphasized the role of God in the former, and kept me from grasping the significance of the event as whole in the latter.

The drama of the Exodus event is grounded in experience. It was a decisive event in Israelite history through which God revealed God’s self the liberator of an oppressed and downtrodden people. The primary agent within the event is God. God initiates the liberation narrative by identifying with the cries and suffering of the children of Israel, “And the people of Israel groaned under their bondage, and cried out for help…” (Exodus 2:23-25).

It is God who takes the initiative, God who reveals the divine self, and God who liberates the Hebrew community. Exodus 6:6 reads, “Say to the Israelites, ‘I am the Lord, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.” I felt this declaration was a  key element within the Exodus drama overall. If we examine the narrative in its entirety this declaration becomes a very decisive element in how we must interpret everything else.

Not only does the role of God keep recurring within the narrative, but there is also an emphasis upon divine power and might. It is the might of a God whom is deeply immersed in the Hebrew community’s daily realities, and is not hesitant to be partisan, nor flinch from taking sides. The divine will and purpose are revealed by a divine disclosure of God’s goodwill toward the Hebrew community. This disclosure ultimately results in socio-political liberation through the destruction of the Egyptian oppressor’s military power. In other words, God takes the side of those who are oppressed (the Hebrews) and then initiates a series of events which  ultimately dismantle the existing socio-politic, economic, and military power of the Egyptian nation (represented by Pharaoh).

Among the many images present within the narrative, I particularly found the imagery of the hand and out-stretched arm of God acting, intervening, and protecting the Israelite people to be particularly potent. This emphasis upon the arm and hands is repeated throughout the story. God makes Moses’ hand leprous, Moses tells Pharaoh that God has declared that he, “Let my people go…” which definitely connotes some type of hold or grip which Pharaoh has upon the Israelites. At one point, the mighty hand of God is outstretched toward Pharaoh.  The outset of almost every mighty act Moses performs is initiated by stretching out his hand (with the staff), so that the hand of God may perform a mighty act for the people. It was from this constant reference, that I opted to use the hand and arm imagery as the primary symbol within this work.

The hand as a multi-functional symbol throughout the Exodus narrative. It can represent a variety of things on a variety of levels. It is the mighty outstretched hand of God which rises up to deliver. It is also the outstretched hand of the people crying out to God for liberation from their oppressor (lower right corner). It is the hand of Pharaoh raised in defiance of the divine imperative to free the Hebrews. It is representative of the hands of Moses and Aaron outstretched over the waters of the Red Sea. There are multiple meanings that can be derived from this image.

The shackled wrist represents the oppression of the Israelite people-but more importantly, God’s self-disclosure within the context of their liberation. God is the God for, and of the oppressed. “The God of the oppressed is a God of revolution who breaks the chains of slavery.” The shackled band signifies divine solidarity with the people while they are still within their state of oppression. God has declared that the Hebrews are to be set free. God has declared their liberation, and initiates actions which will make that declaration a reality by making use of political activity on their behalf (hence the broken shackles).

The orb represents the divine possession of the world as a whole, and the divine omniscient, omnipresent eye of God that not only sees and knows all, but continually speaks within the context of human history. That same God is still watching, and speaking to us now by calling each of us to aid in liberating those who are oppressed. The orb serves as a reminder of divine presence, control, and compassion for creation. When I think of divine compassion within the Exodus Theologian Elsa Tamez reminds me that “The oppression the Hebrews suffered in body extended as well to the innermost parts of their being. It touched their inner-selves, the transcendental part of their being, their dignity, their persons.” God is a compassionate being who relates to, and cares for all of creation in a every aspect of its existence.

The figure in the lower-right corner represents Moses. It is the prophetic figure of Moses who speaks on behalf of God in order to initiate the Hebrew people’s radical break from the social inequities which they were suffering in Egypt. Walter Breugermann points out that “…Moses dismantles the politics of oppression and exploitation by countering it with a politics of justice and compassion. The reality emerging out of the Exodus is not just a new religion or a new religious idea or a vision of freedom but the emergence of a new social community in history, a community that has historical body, that had to devise laws, patterns of governance and order, norms of right and wrong, and sanction accountability…Israel emerged not by Moses’ hand-although not without Moses’ hand-as a genuine alternative community.”

The figure of Moses serves as a reminder that God is still working in, and through the minds and hearts of ordinary people. Hopefully, God still speaks through us to proclaim the divine message of freedom and aide those who are in need. Below Moses’s figure, the people stretch their hands forth to God while at the same time seeking direction and guidance from the prophetic figure before them. Not only are their hands raised in defiance of oppression, but to also obtain direction and hear, “What thus saith the Lord.” The figure is representative of the eternal shepherd who must rise up, step forward and interpret the will of God with, and for the community.

The left-hand corner depicts the wilderness experience. It seemed unnecessary to depict a large group because the mass of figures would detract from a more pertinent point: despite the people’s liberation from Pharaoh, they still had to survive the wilderness. Even after liberation, they were still in constant need of divine guidance and direction. They were out in the open, alone, and vulnerable facing the harsh realities of the world (starvation, shelter from the elements, rest…), because of this they were still very dependent upon divine benevolence.

In a sense, each of us must face the world alone. We each must face the reality of the world’s vastness, and yet somehow find a sense of direction and purpose both physically, and spiritually. The wilderness is the place where we do this. The wilderness is the place where the Hebrews become a nation (Israel) as they cement their relationship to the divine by means of a covenant. I attempted to depict this journey through the use of a single figure traveling through a vast expanse. A single female figure represents the Hebrew community that will become the bride of Yahweh by means of the covenant. The power and presence of God is symbolized by the rain which is falling upon the figure. This rain is also symbolic of the harsh elements which can be encountered in the wilderness.

The elements which form the background operate on many levels. The rain falls steadily and equally throughout the composition. It is the permeating presence of God within the world both physically and spiritually. Just as water eventually permeates, covers, and touches everything; so does the divine presence. Thunder, lightning, and clouds are all a part of the experience of rainfall. In the bible, they are very symbolic representations of the divine presence and power. In the Exodus narrative, God speaks to the Israelites through a cloud, and is present with them in a cloud. Thunder is a symbol of God’s awesome power. The same power which was manifested to Pharaoh as he was forced to grant the Israelites their liberation. Thunder and lightning are part and parcel of the awesome display of divine power which accompanies the mighty hand of God.

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EXODUS

Exodus is available in print format only. 

SOURCES

Brueggermann, Walter. “The Alternative Community of Moses” in The Prophetic Imagination. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1978.

Cone, James H. God Of The Oppressed. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1975.

____________, A Black Theology of Liberation: Twentieth Anniversary Edition. New York: Orbis Books, 1986.

Cress Welsing, Francis. The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors. Chicago: Third World Press, 1991.

HarperCollins Study Bible New Revised Standard Version.

Hooks, Bell. Art On My Mind New York: New Press, distr. By W.W. Norton, 1995.

Moody, Linda A. Women Encounter God: Theology Across the Boundaries of Difference. New York: Orbis Books, 1996.

Studio Museum of Harlem, Challenge of Modernism: African American Artists 1925-1945. New York: Studio Museum of Harlem, 2003.

The Creation Tryptic: Goddess, Terra & Humanity

Greetings,

As promised I am posting my first blog in order to provide specific details regarding the inspiration and symbolism found within my creations. While I was pondering what imagery to explore during this initial posting, this tryptic came to mind because it too is symbolic of beginnings. It represents my first attempt at combining the insights I was gleaning through my theological studies and spiritual practice, with my training as an artist. 

These pieces were initially presented in 2004 as part of a 30-page comprehensive examination which detailed the sources and theological underpinnings of the works. To my surprise, one of the professors on my Examination Committee, the Reverend Dr. George Cummings, Pastor of Imani Community Church expressed his desire to purchase the pieces from me shortly after the exam was completed. Luckily, I was able to get the images digitized before the sale. I am still humbled by the interest he expressed in my efforts and am eternally grateful for his support.

INSPIRATION

The images which comprise this tryptic were inspired by reflections upon the creation narrative found in the biblical book of Genesis, chapter 1.  One of my earliest memories of captivation by a work of art is connected to viewing a large picture book that contained images of Michelangelo’s “Creation of Man” painting in the Sistine Chapel. I was touched by the image’s detailed beauty and its spiritual power. When reading the Genesis narrative I would often have flashes of the Sistine Chapel imagery flash into my head.

But as I entered seminary and went on to doctoral studies my memories of Michelangelo’s images became more disconcerting.  This memory was embedded within my mind, but it no longer spoke to me in a manner which was comforting or relevant given my place in a postmodern world. All of life is about relations, and our relationship with the world is one of the primary building blocks for all other forms of relation. How we relate to the world determines how we relate to God, self, others, and the rest of creation. Given my place in the world as a black man, the image of a bearded white male passing the energy of life to another white male was creating obstacles which hindered my relationship to the divine and human history. I decided, no I needed to re-contextualize, reinterpret and re-create the creation story into a form that was more life-sustaining for myself and others like me. This meant going beyond merely putting the same events into a contemporary setting, or blackenizing traditional compositions. It meant attempting to create new images and symbols which could speak on their own by fostering a new set of relations between, God, self, others, and nature.

If Michelangelo’s God was no longer able to speak to or for me, then I was left asking myself the question, “Who is God for me?” Being the person whom I have been created to be, the answer could not manifest itself within purely spiritual or philosophical terms; it must also be concrete and visual. While reflecting upon this question, I was drawn to the words of the Black Liberation Theologian James Cone who stated, “The word ‘God’ is a symbol that opens depths of reality in the world. If the symbol loses its power to point to the meaning of black liberation, then we must destroy it. Must we say that as a meaningful symbol the word ‘God’ is hopelessly dead and cannot be resurrected…oppressed and oppressors cannot possibly mean the same thing when they speak of God…the question then, as black theology sees it, is not whether blacks believe in God, but whose God?”

Cone speaks very poignantly about what I believe my task as an artist to be. To speak whenever, and wherever I can to those who are suffering, struggling, and fighting to break the shackles of oppression-while attempting make sense of their faith and their world. To in some way attempt an interpretation of what God has done not only in the past, but most urgently, today-at this very moment. The nature of this encounter must be grounded in concrete experiences that can enable others to recognize the activity and presence of the divine both in a manner that will help them to identify with the biblical witness from their present life situation. This, more than anything else is what I believe to be my vocation, and what I strive to achieve through my art.

THE TRYPTIC

I researched various representations of biblically themed creation images but none of them spoke the message I felt was needed. As I began focusing upon the Genesis creation narrative, it became quite apparent that one single image could not adequately portray the majesty of these momentous events. It is difficult to focus upon any single event when dealing with a narrative that provides such a wealth of imagery. After reviewing the text several times in several different versions, I concluded that the action basically occurred in three stages: the introduction and initial creation event (verses 1-5), the development of the cosmos with the subsequent development of the earth’s masses and organic life (verses 6-25), and the decision to create humankind in the image and likeness of God (verses 26-31). The emphasis upon three divisions within the narrative also supported my decision to use a variation of the tryptic format that utilized an editorial approach (traditional tryptics often depict a single image across 3 panels).

Use of the tryptic format necessitates that one stay within the same relative dimensions and style throughout all three panels. Since I was conceptualizing the images from a narrative, I felt a need to link the details and maintain continuity by keeping the color palette consistent throughout all three panels. The colors are representative of Western symbolism and Eastern Orthodox iconography: Orange=benevolence, Yellow=wisdom/divinity, Blue=heavenly love, Violet=love and truth. The dark portions of the works represent the primordial chaos and formlessness which served as material for the work of creation.

The dominant shape throughout all three panels is that of the circle or oval which represents eternity, wholeness, and completion. It begins with oval-like aureole, halo, and stomach in Goddess, then takes on a more subtle appearance in Terra as I emphasize the roundness of the form (belly, breasts, buttocks, thighs) and the circular earth shape within the Goddess’ womb. In Humanity the round aureole, breasts and stomach combine with the repeated halo to symbolize the eternal, infinite qualities of the deity. The nudity of the figure is referred to as “nuditas virtualis” and is a sign of innocence and purity.

Creation

A Feminine Deity

“In that cosmic moment pulsating in possibility, God breathed into space and, groaning in passion and pain and hope, gave birth to creation.” This implies that a fundamental aspect of our connection to the divine lies in our ability to reproduce, to create life (being) as God first created it. The witness of human history can be interpreted as the divine’s continuous revelation of love and caring to humanity. Later in the Genesis narrative God blesses humanity and issues the charge of responsibility for the rest of the earth. This charge initiates a continuous process of revelation and disclosure of the divine purpose to humanity. Therefore, all divine revelation must be viewed in a relational context. God wants to be in communion and relation with the creation in a more interdependent and horizontal relationship than we are accustomed to given the unilateral context of most societal power relations. Unilateral power seeks to impose it’s will upon others-to affect while remaining unaffected thus increasing one person while decreasing another. Relational/horizontal power seeks to both affect and be affected. These qualities are most often associated with the feminine.

Relational power is creative and therefore, aesthetic. In the creation narrative this relational aesthetic is depicted using images of God providing gestation and giving birth to the creation. God in effect births the creation out of the divine primordial chaos of nonbeing. It is then cared for and nurtured throughout each successive stage of its differentiation and development. From the creation of light to the forming of humanity, we see images of a being who seeks to be in continual relation with its creation. This conclusion informed my decision to make use of a female deity in the tryptic.

The choice to depict the deity as an African-American female was driven by my initial question, “Who is God for me?” I was already sure that the ideal of God symbolized as a bearded white male was not an adequate depiction. Too many people of color have suffered psychological and spiritual trauma from that kind of imagery. If God is truly for the oppressed, then I must agree with Cone’s statement, “The Blackness of God is the key to our knowledge of God…there is no place in black theology for a colorless God in a society where human beings suffer precisely because of their color.” God is Black! I can think of no other persons more representative of the oppressed than Black women. Black women undergo a tri-dimensional experience of racism, classism, and sexism which places then in a disproportionately higher percentage among the poor and working classes. In addition, no other group has suffered, or continues to suffer such radical debasement from physical and cultural stereotypes propagated by the media, the world of art, and oftentimes the black male as well. If God identifies with the experience of anyone who is oppressed, it must assuredly be that of Black women.

Creation - Goddess

Goddess (Genesis 1:1-5)

This detail depicts the opening of the creation narrative. God the maternal creator is already pregnant with the possibilities of being and physical life symbolized by the ankh (a symbol of fertility and life in Egyptian mythology) and the pregnant Goddess. The outstretched arm and graceful, gesturing, hand is indicative of divine power, grace, and beauty. Notice the head and eyes tilt upwards toward the light (form) that will be manifested as the Goddess eagerly anticipates the coming creative work. The long flowing robe with its purple accents within the folds is symbolic of the passion and sacrifice that accompany this creative birthing. The creation does not come easily, but is a labor of love and commitment which requires effort and creative zeal. The circular halo around the head represents dignity and holiness, while the aureole represents divine power and glory emanating from the divine presence. The orange color indicates the Goddess’ benevolent intentions towards her creation.

Creation - Terra

Terra (Genesis 1:20-25)

In this panel we find the Goddess pregnant with the world itself. A world which was conceived in the divine mind with wisdom (yellow coloring), and created in the divine womb. As the Goddess develops and nurtures the created world through the stages of creation: (differentiation, ordination, and sustentation) the divine hand cradles, protects and comforts the developing world (hands=presence and might of the divine). while the exposed breast represents motherhood and nourishment.

Creation - Humanity

Humanity (Genesis1:26-31)

For this panel, we again see the orange aureole which is now in the form of a mandorla symbolizing divine benevolence and power, while the yellow nimbus around the head is indicative of divine wisdom, holiness and dignity, I once again went back to the robe with its purple accents/folds (passion and suffering) in order to re-enforce the sense of passion and create continuity between the the first and last image. The mandorla shape was used because it mirrors the shape of a womb. We also see the circular form being repeated within the breasts (nourishment and motherhood), belly, halo/nimbus, and mandorla. The countenance of the Goddess is directed down at the human child within-indicating her unconditional love, nurturing, and concern for humankind and all of creation.

I sought to make the hands more expressive than in the previous two, in order to emphasize the tender love and concern which the Goddess exercises for humankind which is being formed in her own image. The hands (divine power and might) of the figure rest upon the protruding belly to provide protection (upper hand) and nurturing support (lower hand); while the infant (humanity) lovingly reaches up almost as if to touch the very hand of God. This bond between child and parent (creator and created) is indicative of the mutual love and tenderness created within a relational context.

THE IMAGES

The images in the Creation Tryptic are available in print format only. They can be purchased individually or as the entire tryptic (contact me personally to inquire about a discount on the entire set).

To purchase prints click one of the links below:

Creation – Goddess             Creation – Terra             Creation – Humanity

Materials:

The tryptic was created using Windsor Newton Watercolor Paints on Arches 300lb Watercolor Paper. Once completed it was coated with Krylon Crystal Clear Acrylic Spray as a sealant.

SOURCES

Cone, James H. A Black Theology of Liberation. Bishop Henry McNeal Turner Studies in North American Religion, vol. 1, 1970. Twentieth Anniversary ed. New York: Orbis Books, 1991

___________. God of the Oppressed. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1975

Ferguson, George ed., Signs and Symbols in Christian Art. New York: Oxford University Press, 1954

Grant, Jacquelyn. White Women’s Christ and Black Women’s Jesus: Feminist Christology and a Womanist Response. American Academy of Religion, Academy Series 64, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1989

Huffaker, Linda A Stark. Creative Dwelling: Empathy and Clarity in Self and God. American Academy of Religion series, no. 98, Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1998.

Irwin, Alexander, Eros Toward the World: Paul Tillich and the Theology of the Erotic. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991.

Mesle, Robert C. “Aesthetic Value and Relational Power; An Essay on Personhood.” Process Studies, 13 (Spring 1983): 59-70

Moody, Linda A. Women Encounter God: Theology Across the Boundaries of Difference. New York: Orbis Books, 1996