bible

Ascension III: Breaking through the Veil

INSPIRATION

Although the appearance of this image is very different from the two which have preceded it, the impetus for its creation is deeply embedded within the same concept. “Breaking through the Veil” is still very much about ascension. At the most fundamental level, each of us is spirit and exists as such in this dimension and those beyond it. From a quantum perspective, we know that more dense slower moving particles (lower vibration) can not maintain their integrity in the presence of less dense particles (higher vibration). The more dense particles must either be accelerated to the higher frequency or be destroyed by it. From a spiritual viewpoint, Spirit must literally descend to a lower frequency in order to become encased within physical matter. The portion of human consciousness which exists within our bodies had to literally descend and break through into this 4th-dimensional reality. 
Part of our spiritual work is the practice of more fully embodying this higher energy and consciousness within our physical body. At our best, we do this through a process of spiritual formation and an intentional cultivation of the inner life that will help spirit become increasingly more present within every aspect of our being. At our worst, we live unconsciously and are driven by ego, habit, and basic physical impulses. Siddhartha the first Buddha is a shining example of the potential we possess when the spiritual life is cultivated with discipline and intention. As we read his story we are privy to an ongoing process of transformation which culminates in him embodying so much spiritual light that he could phase up and out (ascend) into the higher dimensions of consciousness. He took the small spark which had initially broken through the veil and fanned it into a bright and shining light that brought about his ascension. 
When we review the life of Jesus and the events which led to his resurrection and subsequent ascension we find another point of entry. As a boy, we are told that Jesus was constantly spending time with the spiritual masters of his particular tradition. We also find that a significant portion of this embodiment work was completed during his baptism in the river Jordan under the hand of his cousin John the Baptizer. We are told that when he presents himself to John for baptism, Jesus rose up from the water and the spirit descended upon him like a dove. Whether we view this literally or symbolically, the essential point is that he was transformed in a manner which was easily identifiable by those around him. In this case, he was provided with an inpouring of spiritual power for the performance of his particular mission within the earthly realm. This descension could be interpreted as a greater connection to his higher self, or a greater capacity to access the frequencies within the higher realms. This capacity allowed him to perform various works which seemed to be miraculous by our limited perspective. 
The examples above inspired me to create “Breaking through the Veil”. The images I create are not only birthed from my vocational practice but are the result of spiritual insights that have accompanied my own process of spiritual formation.
 

Breaking the Veil 72.5

SYMBOLISM

“Breaking through the Veil” symbolizes ascension and descension. The piece was created using scratchboard because the stark contrasts between dark and light were an essential part of my vision for the image. We encounter utter darkness on the left and right sides of the image. For me, this blackness is pregnant with symbolism. In Western Euroethnic culture, blackness is associated with that which is base and evil. But in other cultures this isn’t the case. The blackness encountered here is associated with formlessness, the void, a place absent of any “thing” yet pregnant with infinite possibility. Science refers to it as anti-matter that fills the spaces between space and as such it is the blank canvas of the cosmos.   

On the left side of this expanse, we find a single point of light shining forth within the darkness. This light, this single spark from source is filled with infinite knowledge which is symbolized by the all-seeing eye contained within it. This single divine spark is filled with all knowledge and therefore, an infinite capacity to act upon and within the darkness which surrounds it. It uses its very being to pierce through, manipulate, and mold the slower moving anti-matter into a form that a portion of its consciousness can embody. In the process of descension and embodiment so much is of its former brilliance is lost that it, we, so often forget that how truly powerful, brilliant and expansive we are. We forget that there is so much more to us than theses bodies and thoughts could ever contain. We forget that this is not all there is and that the reality we know is simply the tip of a massive iceberg buried deep within.  

The child-like figure finds shape and form as it emerges from the darkness yet it is not fully formed as none of us truly are. Some of us will live a thousand lifetimes and still remain partially unformed. unfulfilled, and never fully mature into the possibilities for which we were intended.  This is why we must work at embodying the spark, bringing forth the light which yearns to become fully actualized within us. Live in the Light!

The rings emanating from the figure are indicative of both spiritual light and the dissolution that accompanies time. The first one is bright white and clear as we grow into our full maturity. The second aura is much denser because it represents the genesis of our physical forms process of decline. Notice that each successive emanation has less form and greater degrees of dissipation.  What is spirit must return to spirit. Eventually, the physical form will return back into the void from which it was birthed, and the spark will once again merge with its own omniscient brillance. As Job reminds us, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The spirit gives and the spirit will take away.” Amen.

To join my mailing list click here: 

Damon’s list

My website:

Damonpowell.com

To purchase the original image please contact me directly at:

info@damonpowell.com

To Purchase a Print use the link below:

Damon Powell – Artist & Theologian

Advertisements

Ascension I: The Son of Man Ascends

INSPIRATION

Inspiration is a funny thing. It is often born from the most unlikely sources and flashes into consciousness at the worst possible moments. Yet these capricious insights are an integral  part of the creative process. To be inspired is to be “in Spirit” and that was exactly how the seeds of this image began to sprout.

Over the course of 3 weeks, I had been listening to several talks by various thinkers and intuitives on the topic enlightenment and the expansion of consciousness. The more I absorbed their perspectives and meditated upon the topic the more insights poured into my mind and spirit. Over those weeks, I felt a growing need to not only synthesize these insights but to share them with others.

As human beings, we often think of ascension as an upward, and often hierarchical  movement, but in reality, ascension is circular and holistic. Ascension is about expansion! The expansion and integration of one’s consciousness throughout all levels of self. Thus, one becomes fully self-actualized and self-aware physically, mentally, spiritually, and  energetically. From this perspective, one can only ascend outward and upward to the level or depth one has also gone downward and inward.

This can be evidenced not only in Jesus’ life and ministry but in the writings and biographies of all the spiritual masters. We see what can best be described as a kind of implosion. Each master first begins by going within in an effort to know the self’s inner world and locate that quiet, silent place of inner spaciousness. But in each instance, the master begins to discover that the journey within is simultaneously connecting her/him more deeply to all that is without and beyond. Paradoxically, each one discovered that the universal resides within the particular. Yet each reached a point upon the inward journey where there was no further they could go. The journey inward was then replaced by an opening, a flowering, or a rapid outward expansion which completely altered their way of being. This transformation occurs as a result of the inward exploration and is directly linked to the act that we refer to as ascension.

SYMBOLISM

I chose Jesus because he is the most easily recognizable figure within my particular context. Since Jesus’ ascension is directly linked to his death and resurrection, I felt it was extremely important to make reference to these events within the work so that one can see the continuity between them. I began researching Jesus and the ascension using various theological texts and the biblical narratives. The main features of the biblical narratives are Jesus ascending up into the heavens, the presence of heavenly beings, the elements, and the disciples who stand in witness.

Materials

The image is painted using acrylic paints on a large solid wood board. I actually found the piece of board lying outside near a trash pick-up site. I was walking down the street and noticed this large piece of wood supported by a couple of trash bins. The wood’s surface was distressed by scrapes, peeling layers, and various rippling textures. Normally I wouldn’t even have paid attention to something like this but the surface was so intriguing that I decided to take it to my studio.  It literally sat in my studio for a month and some days I would just sit in the studio and stare at it. I felt a connection to it in some way but I had no idea what to do with it? It wasn’t until I was halfway through my sketches for Ascension that I understood why I had been drawn to this block of wood.

The panel is 1.5 inches thick and weighs about 80lbs. Its surface is rough, pitted, and unfinished. This large piece of wood is reminiscent of the Jesus’ death on the cross. Its surface and texture are not only symbolic of a cross but it is earthy and grounding just as Jesus’ death truly was. It reminds me that life, death, and ascension are not heavenly conceptualizations to be spiritualized, but real-world, natural, embodied experiences that are played out within the earthly realm.

Ascension I: The Son of Man Ascends

Imagery

The two angels found on the upper right and left portions of the composition are representative of heavenly witnesses and guides. The angel on the left holds an ankh which symbolizes rebirth and new life. The angel on the right wields a spear which makes reference to Jesus’ death by human hands and the piercing of his side by the Roman centurion’s spear during his crucifixion.

The elements of cloud and sky have always held a prominent place in spiritual symbolism. The clouds symbolize both the divine presence and the biblical narratives’ description of Jesus ascending up into the clouds as he entered the heavenly realms. In the biblical tradition, the divine presence is often symbolized by clouds so I felt they were appropriate for this image. The golden-yellow sky is symbolic of light and spiritual illumination. The divine light pours forth bringing both physical and spiritual illumination to Jesus and the disciples who see and comprehend the events with supra-natural clarity. The symbol floating in the sky above Jesus’ head is the West African Adinkra symbol for transformation.

The silhouetted figures found in the bottom portion of the composition represent the disciples who not only witness the ascension but later receive a portion of Jesus anointing and divine power with the arrival of the Holy Spirit as it is described within the biblical book of Acts. These figures are in various positions of prayer and supplication as they worship their ascending master. Each figure is not only connected to the next, but each is connected to Jesus through the orange mandorla which surrounds Jesus who is ascending up above them. The deep blue depicts the figure’s silhouettes since they are surrounded by the dark clouds of divine presence. They are also encircled by red and orange halos (respectively). The former represents Jesus’ shed blood which covers the figures and provides both protection and connection with the divine presence. The orange halo is symbolic of the disciples sharing in the same spiritual power that Jesus himself possesses.

 Jesus is depicted within the very center of the composition floating upon a cloud as he ascends into the heavenly realms. The viewer’s eye is directed to this focal point by the use of an orange mandorla surrounding Jesus. The same orange also surrounds his actual figure as an aura. Orange is an expansive color that is often used to symbolize energy and power. Since ascension is expansion I thought the orange was an appropriate means of symbolizing this reality. In addition, the biblical narrative clearly connects Jesus’ ascension with the notion of power, both spiritually and physically (“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me…”). This power pours forth from the figures’ eyes and body (if the eyes scare you stop watching so many horror films).  The symbol that accompanies this new state of ascended transformation is the reiki symbol for enlightenment emblazoned upon his forehead in red.  The red robe is reminiscent of Jesus’ death and the blood he shed upon the cross. His sacrifice will be the catalyst through which those who follow him will gain access to the heavenly realms. His hands are outspread in a gesture of welcome as his forefingers grasp his thumbs to form a mudra.

To join my mailing list click here: 

Damon’s list

My website:

Damonpowell.com

To purchase the original image please contact me directly at:

info@damonpowell.com

To Purchase a Print use the link below:

Damon Powell – Artist & Theologian

God of the Oppressed

God of the Oppressed bw300

INSPIRATION

Although this image has flowered recently, the nights of reflection and debate that planted the seeds for its creation go back almost 20 years. Seeds that were planted during my second semester at seminary where I received my initial exposure to the writings of Dr. James Cone, the parent of Black Theology. That seed was then watered by the writings of Gustavo Gutierrez, the parent of Latin American Liberation Theology, and fertilized in the fruitful soil of ongoing theological debate and reflection.

I find both ironic and appropriate that I have given birth to an image of Jesus so close to the season in which his birth is celebrated throughout the world. For some this birth means nothing – and for others everything. The most practical and pertinent questions have nothing to do with whether or not Jesus ever existed as an actual person, is he the son of god…and everything to do with his contemporary relevance in a world where his presence (real or otherwise) has made a lasting impression. There are so many differing voices and factions claiming  possession of Jesus that it’s extremely difficult to discuss his relevance to the current state of affairs, until we ascertain “whose” Jesus we should be talking about? God of the Oppressed is a visual response to this question.

SYMBOLISM

Imagery

The nature of representational imagery necessitates the use of smaller, individual images (image begets image). The smaller individual images within the overall composition were carefully selected to support the overarching theme, “God of the Oppressed”.  In the process of supporting this theme, I have placed the images together in ways that detail or elaborate upon certain aspects of the theme while simultaneously reinforcing or supporting the other images around it. In this way, their interdependence mirrors our own interdependence.

The Asian male with his hand raised in defiance counter-balances the outstretched arm of Hitler behind him. The handcuffed figure in the prison garb is directly connected to the silhouetted figure behind bars – yet both are directly linked to the police officer firing his gun as he holds the dangling head of yet another victim…we go on and on this way as we circle our way around the entire composition.  My point with this effect was to remind us that despite all our futile attempts to deny our interdependence, each of us is connected to one another in myriad ways. The injustices we exercise upon another have an effect upon us, them, and the whole of humanity.

The Scriptural Texts

The figures carrying signs in the image’s lower left corner are central to its interpretation. Each of the figures holds a sign containing excerpts from key biblical texts. The young man in front stands before a sign which contains an excerpt from Luke 4.16-21 that reads: When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  

The gentleman walking behind the young man carries a sign with excerpts from Exodus 3.7-10 which states: Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

The final text is carried by a woman wearing a hat who marches just behind the two gentlemen. Her message is excerpted from the famous “Magnificant” contained in Luke 1.46-55: And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

The central theme within each of these texts is the emphasis upon liberation from oppression, suffering and injustice. Not only liberation from, but more importantly solidarity with those whose lives are being affected by injustice. Solidarity from a divine intelligence that feels what they feel, hears their cries and provides comfort in the midst of unjust and often hostile circumstances. A divinity that not only identifies with us in our brokenness but also promises to take concrete action toward justice on our behalf. These actions are not solely focused upon comfort for the soul but are grounded in concrete historical reality. There is no “pie in the sky” or promise of future glory in the hereafter. These are the actions of a being who walks with us and works on our behalf within the context of our present reality. Freedom and justice are to be struggled for “now” because they are pertinent to our physical experience.

These texts present us with a divinity that is filled with compassion and actively concerned with justice. A god who not only takes sides but exercises a preferential option for those who are oppressed. This is a divinity who cannot be contained or co-opted by the establishment. A creator who loves us all, but is willing to not only take sides and become proactively involved with our efforts to balance the scales of justice. That is why these texts lie at the core of my personal theology and are intimately connected to every other aspect of this image.

Jesus

The image of Jesus serves as the central figure within this illustration. He is surrounded by a mandorla like shape which is also representative of the fish symbol that the early church appropriated to depict their faith and mission. I intentionally made sure that the figure not only breaks through the mandorla to touch the other figures but the tail portions of the mandorla also connect with the outer figures as well. This helps unify the composition and create a direct physical connection between the Jesus and the figures that surround him. I also opted to make use of the traditional halo surrounding Jesus’ head. Both symbols indicate spiritual light and power that is being symbolically transmitted to the other figures as it connects them to Jesus. The silhouette upon the cross at Jesus’ feet is not only his cross but the cross of all those who are suffering from oppression – yet continue to engage in the struggle for justice and equality.

From my perspective, the real question is not about Jesus, but “whose Jesus?”  The Jesus of the oppressor never was and never can be the Jesus of the oppressed. The establishment has its own Jesus. He is not a person of color. He is not a Jew. He is not concerned with justice or equality and would never condone any kind of rebellion or insurrection. He is a wimp. His only interests are sentimental love and helping to maintain the status quo. Whose Jesus are you walking with?

My emphasis here is upon the person of Jesus as opposed to the risen Christ of faith. A Jesus who was born as a person of color into a minority community that was experiencing multiple forms of oppression. A Jesus who was: poor, stood up to a corrupt religious establishment, established his ministry by serving those who were considered the least within his community, was trapped by his enemies, abandoned by his inner circle, brutalized by the authorities, and ultimately tried and murdered by an oppressive government. This is the Jesus who has stood by my side, labored with me in my struggles and knows me in every aspect of my humanness.  This is the Jesus with whom I identify. This is the God of the Oppressed!

To Purchase a Print click on the image above, or use the link below:

Damon Powell – Artist & Theologian

To purchase the original image please contact me directly at:

info@damonpowell.com

To join my mailing list click here: 

Damon’s list

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.

To purchase prints click one of the link below:

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