Untitled, Black on Southern Canvas, Dimensions to be determimed
My examination of the African- American family’s experience in the South. Displaying this experience through the analyzing of African-American Art.
“I learned a long time ago that self-dignity and racial pride could be consciously approached through art.” — John Biggers
Born in Gastonia, North Carolina in the 1020’s, John Biggers grew up the son of an educator and homemaker. He attended studied art at Hampton University, a historic black university in Virginia. Under the guidance of by the influential educator Viktor Lowenfeld, Biggers discovered the complex world that changed his life. Through Lowenfeld’s intense instruction, Biggers and his fellow classmates were encouraged to explore the culture of their own people. His professor support his students to explore works by noted African-American artists, artists that they could connect to base on cultural and shared experiences. Through this research and investigation, John Biggers desired to become an artist dedicated to depicting the lives of African-American people.
Biggers would go on to follow Lowenfeld to Pennsylvania State University, where he studied from 1946 to 1954. Biggers felt somewhat isolated during his early years on the predominantly white campus, however he found success earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in art education as well as a doctorate.
It is compelling to find so many similarities between a known black artist like John Bigger and that of my own life. We both are from the South. We both are artists with an area of study in art education. I, like John, attend the University of Georgia, a predominately white institution in Athens, Ga. I also fleet somewhat isolated my first year here at Georgia as Biggers did at Penn State. To come from a place where your face and background made up the majority of the people that are around you to an atmosphere where you surrounded by a sea of white can be very intimidating at first. However I have come to embrace the diversity that UGA offers and I have created a sense of home here, and have made many lasting relationships in the process.
Yet John Biggers interesting direction towards art and conveying the lives of African American lives, is the biggest take away from his experience. I believe this is an important responsibility of art to depict the experiences of life for many different individuals. As an artist, he saw the impact in which art could be used as a medium of communication and understanding of one’s own personal story. He recognized the power behind art’s capability to convey a narrative to share with others. In this new-found enlightenment, Biggers began to create works would too influences from his own experience, African-American history, and black folks ever changing status within American society. Approaching art through its symbolism and language, can be used at an effective form of storytelling.
In researching my family’s history, I discovered two key factors that I want to study further. One: my family has lived in Coweta County, Georgia for almost 200 years. Two: their primary profession has always been some form of homestead farming, tending and living if of the land they have inhabited. I want to study these forces and how they interacted with one another, and how was and social class can affect them as well.
I intend my writing to reflect my family’s history as sharecroppers and farmers on the American South. I want to examine the experience of the southern black family. As I embrace and embark on this journey, I want to apply African American Art as a medium to visual communicate my family’s store. I’m curious to discover information that the elders of my family didn’t know so I can share it with them. Through me, we can collectively discover the history and experience of our family’s story.Through this Routes and Roots journey, I hope to learn what it means to be a Southern Black family
In his work entitled “The Web Of Life” Biggers displays the “interdependence of living organisms in the balance of nature, and the relationship of all organisms to one another.” The sacred feminine is a ploy on an essential earth mother. Her role in this piece paramount; everything flows from her, creating life and building connections throughout the environment. She sits nestled in the center of the piece cradling a child. The work speaks to the elements of support and nurture. This mother is essential to the longevity of the environment; essential to the transition or cycle of life.
I believe every family has that one individual that can be labeled it’s it’s essential ; that one individual who talks to everyone, every week to make sure everything is ok. They are a source of comfort, wisdom and of support; they only wanting the best for their tribe. This person is very essential to the family’s thriving and longevity. This character trope is present in many families, and I believe it can especially be seen in the African American family. In the Black community, this weight and role always seems to fall on the shoulders of a women, an essential mother. My family is no different.
As the one of the oldest living relatives, My Great Aunt Christeen will be a primary source in searching the past to find out our family’s history and our southern roots.
Reaching her 90th birthday this July, Christeen Wilson has lived in Coweta County majority of her life. Aunt Betty, an affectionate nickname we call her, has experienced many pivotal scenes in American history: The Jim Crow South, The Great Depression, The Civil Movement, Rise in Feminism, the list can go on and on really. My Great Aunt’s life is rich with knowledge and wisdom of what many of the triumphs and hardships that many black southerners have experienced of the past century. Her life is a testament to what I want to discover in the Roots And Routes Project: to understand the experience of growing up in Coweta County at times where being black shaped your experience and influenced one’s identity. I desire to gain a better understanding of how growing up in the south can influence a family’s story.
What was it like growing up in Coweta County, Georgia?
What is the fondest memory of your childhood?
What was the most heart-breaking memory you experienced growing up in Coweta County?
What can you remember about your mother, Stella Wilson?
Did your mother ever share stories about her upbringing or her family?
Did your mother teach you any lessons about life?
How was life growing up on a farm?
What do you remember “seeing” around you going up? Describe the place where you grew up. How has it changed over time?
What does it mean to you being a part of a clan whose has long history of being sharecroppers?
Where there storytelling or craft traditions passed down? what are theses traditions?
What is something you wish your mother/grandmother taught you?
What was life like growing up on a farm?
Black in the American South. What does that mean to you?
How did race play a factor in your up bringing in Coweta County, Georgia?