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The Voice of the Black Community

Arts and Entertainment

Oppression, religion and art ties
Published Monday, April 9, 2018 2:50 pm
by Ashley Mahoney

Oppression is universal.

“Wrestling the Angel: A Century of Artists Reckoning With Religion,” on view at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art through Sept. 9, featuring artists from various eras, backgrounds and religious influences.

Three pieces by Charlotte-born artist Romare Bearden hang in the exhibition: “The Annunciation” circa 1967, and “The Baptism” circa 1972 and “The Annunciation” circa 1974. His work explores not only the role of Christianity in American society, but the way in which it was forced upon enslaved people brought over from Africa.

“It takes on that theme of a stolen or an oppressed people who are given this religion, in this case Christianity, to replace their indigenous culture or ritualistic practice, and end up embracing it whole heartedly,” said Bechtler curator Jennifer Sudul Edwards.

Bearden’s imagery in “The Annunciation” circa 1974 illustrates the encounter between the angel Gabriel telling Mary that she would give birth to Jesus. Through a collage and watercolor, marker and pencil on board creation, the 17 1/2-inch by 15 3/4-inch creation conveys more than the biblical narrative.

“You see the drapery is stained, and looks old—this is the watercolor element that’s giving it that rich texture, and in itself seems to imply this deep history,” Edwards said.

“Then behind them, you have these bold striped colors, which to me seem to suggest kente cloth, and the idea of that royal robe that was left behind in Africa, and that the slaves are trying to recreate in some ways with their quilts. I know that’s entirely true, but part of it, I really think that quilts have some connection to kente cloth. I know there’s a lot of other stuff going on there, but that presence of the kente cloth still in the background, and still being kept alive in the same way that so many of those slaves were trying to keep alive the African heritage and lives that they had to leave behind.”

Two of Bearden’s collagraphs convey his expertise in collage, as well as what Edwards describes as “all of the art forms that were going on when he was coming of age as an artist,” combining styles popular  from the beginning of the 20th century through the 1970s.  

“He was a master of collage, and what makes this printmaking technique interesting for Bearden is that they are collages pasted down on thin cardboard, very similar to the cardboard you would find in dry cleaning,” Edwards said. “I’m not saying it was dry cleaning cardboard, I’m saying it’s very similar, and I’m saying that’s interesting. That’s all I’m saying. Then he coated it with shoe polish. Also very interesting, though some have said there is no political context there, I think there is. That’s all I’m saying. He’s coating it with shoe polish, and that is his ink.”


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