"Luther and the Coming of Light" digital art by Aberjhani C2022)
.he last thing I expected to find myself writing about as we moved deeper into the year 2022 was a 3-way war between Russia, Ukraine, and professed defenders of democracy around the world. But write about it I have on the LinkedIn website as well as here at Bright Skylark. Hopefully, the articles have made it clear one of my primary concerns regarding the war has been the brutal erasure of history and culture as well as that of human lives.
The Chronicling Legacies of Black Artists in Savannah series was first published in my AXS cultural arts column as an expression of that same concern. It is reposted at this time both to encourage unwavering support in their struggle for what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called “the right to live,” and, in observation of the 14th anniversary of the publication of ELEMENTAL, the Power of Illuminated Love:
Contributors to Unique Traditions
Upon his passing on April 6, 2016, Luther E. Vann joined an illustrious group of brilliant contemporary African-American creative artists who, prior to their transitions, produced numerous celebrated works which have added tremendously to Savannah’s (Georgia, USA) reputation and value as a favorite travel destination for lovers of the cultural arts. Vann (b. 1937) and Allen Fireall (1954-2014) bestowed upon the city a legacy of fine visual art that documented daily life in different communities throughout the Low Country in Georgia and South Carolina. Like artist William M. Pleasant Jr. (1928-1997) before them, they also contributed greatly to the unique traditions of Gullah art.
(Digital portrait of late Savannah Gullah artist Allen Fireall by Aberjhani)
In many cases, particularly where Fireall is concerned, their painted canvases depict scenes representative of historic cultural activities rarely practiced as part of everyday living in contemporary times. Making nets and sewing quilts by hand, for example, are more likely to be done for creative enjoyment [or to be sold as cultural artefacts] rather than, as they once were, out of simple necessity. Similarly, men and women carrying bushels of crabs atop their heads, or gathering in parks or alongside roads to wait for job assignments are seen even less rarely (if ever). Nor are you as likely while driving or walking down a lane in the American South to see women in adjoining back yards laughing and talking as they hang freshly-washed laundry out to dry.
Restoring Erased History
The late world-renowned Rev. Dr. Ja A. Jahannes(1942 -2015) was something of a polymath whose exceptional talents included writing plays, poems, novels, and children’s books–– as well as publishing anthologies, producing fine-art photography, composing music, teaching, and delivering inspired sermons. Through his multiple positions as an educator at the HBCU Savannah State University, a minister at Savannah’s now 105-year-old Abyssinia Baptist Church, and a public intellectual, Jahannes empowered many others to pick up where he would leave off.
The names presented here are not done so to invite nostalgic reveries, though studied reflections are certainly appropriate for people familiar with them. They are offered (and a number of others could easily be included) to help prevent their consignment to discarded files marked “erased history, or being deleted, via guerrilla decontextualization by omission, from the more “official” channels of documented acknowledgements.
Whether using the term “erasure of history” or “history of erasure” the final definition points to the same legacy-destroying result: the removal of consequential names and events from their authentic historic context and thus from public awareness. An erasure of history indicates the active or conscious deletion of a subject from various official records. Histories of erasure, as it were, possess the paradoxical distinction of referring to accumulated instances of eradication. The first describes the act of omitting relevant events or biographies. The second describes accounts of such actions.
The late painter William M. Pleasant Jr. surrounded by some of his celebrated works.
Guerrilla decontextualization by omission tends to occur frequently when it comes to African-American cultural arts workers who have not been embraced by certain institutions. Whatever prominence they command stems more from the direct support of, and engagement with, appreciative audiences than from disinterested commercial outlets. Some, such as William M. Pleasant Jr., had the good fortune to produce heirs, like Jalal Pleasant, who also became accomplished artists and have labored to ensure their parent’s work is properly noted.
The Example of Luther E. Vann
All of the people mentioned here have won some level of recognition in their own right. Vann earned his place beside the luminous talents he has joined through a lifetime of dedication to both the spirit and the forms of his craft. It was that dauntless commitment which prompted organizations like the Telfair Museum Friends of African-American Art to back the publication of the ekphratic book, Elemental the Power of Illuminated Love, in honor of his individual genius.
INTRO: Unexpected encounters with manifestations of the angelic kind tend to be recurring themes in some of my creative productions because of their repeated occurrences in my actual life. The following example is taken from the texts of two recent posts of artwork at Pixels.com and Fine Art America:
Portrait of the Artist at Work
An interesting funny thing happened after I delivered 3 pieces of artwork to the Savannah/Hilton Head Airport Art Gallery for an exhibition curated by the Savannah Art Association in early October (now on exhibit until January 7, 2022). I was crossing the busy terminal street where drivers dropped off and picked up travelers, then waiting for my own ride, when I noticed something for the first time. Further ahead, some yards away from the taxi stand waiting area, was a giant round planter filled with colorful flowers and, at its center, a gushing fountain with an angel on top. Above its head, the angel held a globe with small airplanes circling it. I was approaching the fountain from the back so did not experience the full impact of its beauty until slowly circling around to its front.
(Detail from mixed media digital photograph and painting by Aberjhani titled "Angel with the Blue Wings." Click to purchase at Fine Art America or to check out other visual creations by the artist-author-poet-historian.)
That I had been unaware of this structure until that moment seemed impossible. But it was true, so I took as many photographs as I could before my transportation arrived.
As they do in cities like Rome, Paris, and Singapore, beautifully-designed fountains make up an important part of the appeal of Savannah (Georgia, USA). Different styles and sizes can be found in various squares and major public parks. The most famous is the Forsyth Park Fountain (images of which can be found in my FAA Savannah Collection). The angel on top of this one caught my attention in particular because angels inspired an entire book of my poetry (The River of Winged Dreams) and several pieces of my visual art as well.
Kudos for an Unknown Sculptor
Not knowing the official name of the fountain, I gave it several: Airport Angel, Angel of the Airport, Flight Fountain, and Angel with the Blue Wings. Its basic color was distorted by shadows because it was not yet noon.
I did not see a plaque describing the fountain, information about who created the angel, or when it was placed there. So far, none of the basic information regarding it has been made available to me, but I’m happy to commend the unknown sculptor for the flight angel fountain’s creation and the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport for installing it.
(To see this artwork in its entirety at the artist's website on Pixels.com please click the above image.)
What viewers see in my visual reimaginings of the structure is a mixed media rendering of the fountain using digital photography and digital painting. The goal was to combine a sense of classical style with modern aesthetics to evoke an atmosphere of inspired spiritual surrealism. In real physical life, the actual fountain is framed by the architecture of the airport itself, which stands as a modern classic creation in its own right. It may also be considered as symbolic of the airport’s growth and development over the past few decades, much like the city of Savannah’s.
If a reporter were to ask how I ended up returning home with the 19th/20th century French painter Paul Cezanne this past weekend after traveling to downtown Savannah for a very different purpose, that would be a more-than-fair question. I actually made the trip to get some quick photos of the Lafayette Square area for a project related to my book, Greeting Flannery O’Connor at the Back Door of My Mind. The encounter with Cezanne, notwithstanding the fact he physically departed the world in 1906, was not one I could have anticipated. The first big surprise which greeted me was the discovery #COVID19 had not stopped throngs of tourists from visiting during this cooler more hospitable October time of the year. Many of the events for which a lot of people travel to the city this time of year would, after all, be scaled down to one degree or another if not completely canceled by the pandemic. Clearly, however, the city itself was enough for them. I was awed to see so many, some wearing masks, some not, taking photos of the sites and obviously very happy to be out and about in our coronavirus-challenged world.
Something Unusual and Unexpected
The second big surprise came while I stood at Abercorn Street and East Liberty Street Lane taking my own photographs of the majestic Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist. As I clicked away, something to the left started tugging at my attention. I took quick note that, a short distance down the lane, a number of art canvases appeared to be arranged next to an open door. Then I gave in to the urge to investigate further and started walking down the lane.
The closer I got to the canvases, the more I saw how exceptional they were in terms of the subjects, the artist’s technical skill, and applied individual style. The gleaming lustrous medium of choice appeared to be oil. One portrait struck me as reminiscent of the Mona Lisa and another made me think of the classic busts of Greek gods. If somebody’s throwing these away, I thought, they must be crazy because these are absolutely superb. My astonishment was growing stronger when a man casually appeared in the doorway and said hello. It turned out he was the painter of the artworks speaking to me in their own intensified language of visual style and philosophical concerns, and he certainly was not throwing them away.
Being ever mindful of today’s social-distance protocol, even though I was wearing a mask, when he took a few steps out I took a few steps back. The space behind him looked like a small car port or open driveway beneath a carriage house. A couple of trees were visible just past the far end and air flowed freely through the passageway. With the kind of ingenuity for which artists are well-known, it had been outfitted to function as a studio gallery and was filled with more art pieces. Would it be okay, I asked, to take a closer look? “Sure, come on in.”
I stopped at the entrance this time not because of concerns over coronavirus but because of a large captivating image, perched on an easel, fusing elements of figure painting and abstract art. As I stood before it, the thoughts running through my head started diving off my tongue:
“When I look at this,” I said, “I see a combination of Atlas from Greek mythology holding the world on his shoulders and Rodin’s famous ‘The Thinker’ sculpture. Atlas really stands out for me because almost all of us these days feel like we’re carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders since the pandemic has made us more responsible for each other’s well-being than ever before. It’s not something we can be casual about anymore and have to think about all the time.”
“That is Atlas,” he said, “and also Hercules.”
An Atlas/Hercules mash-up. That made sense.
“One day I hope I can make you a respectable offer for this painting.”
After our shared revelations, my eyes wandered from canvas to canvas in which I thought I detected the influence of classic art masters interpreted through the lens of a sensibility which was both modern and something not-modern. There were genuine (as opposed to forced or artificial) reflections of the brushes of Picasso, Francis Bacon, El Greco maybe, and even da Vinci. Isn’t it just like the universe, I thought, to hide a talent of such immense potential beneath a carriage house in a lane in downtown Savannah. Amid the flashing realizations, an 18x24 portrait painted and etched on wood, and hanging near the end of the wall, caught my eye.
“This one reminds me of a friend I used to have but who’s passed now.” Looking at it actually made me think of several artist friends who are now deceased. It also reminded me of Walt Whitman. I was only a little surprised when he told me it was the French painter Paul Cezanne. The eyes on the painting seemed to be carefully reading my thoughts. Those parts of the portrait where scratches revealed deeper layers of the wood looked to me like stories from my life, or more likely from Cezanne’s, written in hieroglyphics. Or in coded algorithms.
The entire collection emanated such a powerful sense of human beauty intertwined with cosmic collisions that it might serve as an appropriate illustration of this passage from Andre Malraux’s overlooked survey of classic art, The Metamorphosis of the Gods: “…It is the relationship between the tidal rhythms of human life and a power that governs or transcends it that gives these forms their driving force and accent."
The Painter @YoungPablo1881
Having stayed downtown longer than intended and also feeling I had taken up too much of the artist’s time, I thanked him for indulging me, told him my name, and gave him one of my cards. He in turn told me his name is Rocky and gave me a sheet of paper with an abstract sketch on it. At the bottom of the paper was his Instagram handle: @YoungPablo1881. Beneath this was the name he’d just told me paired with another I could not quite make out: Rocky B________. I turned to leave and was halfway toward the cars and pedestrians still flowing up and down Abercorn Street on this late Saturday afternoon when, again, I turned around. Would it be okay, I asked the artist known as Rocky, if I took a couple of photographs of him standing among his paintings. While snapping away, I explained that I might use them with a blog or article. He thought that would be great and put up with me taking more than the couple of shots for which I had asked.
Aberjhani holding painting of Paul Cezanne by the Artist Known as Rocky a.k.a. @YoungPablo1881 on Instagram. (Photograph Bright Skylark Literary Productions C2020)
Although I had been mesmerized by the painting of Atlas/Hercules shouldering the agony of beauty’s battle against chaos in the world, it was, to my astonishment, the amazing portrait of Paul Cezanne tucked under my arm as I made my way through the glow of early twilight. I called a friend and asked if she felt up to a short social-distance visit so I could show her something fantastic. She said yes.
Postered Chromatic Poetics title art graphic by Aberjhani.
Many of my blogs on the Charter for Compassion website address an international audience on why the practice of conscious global coexistence is crucial to humanity’s survival and how we can work towards achieving it. It is something diplomats from different countries have been trying to help nations accomplish for centuries, so the concept is not new. But we continue to get blindsided in the 21st century by biases and phobias which do more to perpetuate divisions than strengthen unity.
Among the quotations from my work employed the most to help transform international antagonism into global cooperation is the following:
“Individual cultures and ideologies have their appropriate uses but none of them erase or replace the universal experiences, like love and weeping and laughter, common to all human beings.” (from Splendid Literarium: A Treasury of Stories, Aphorisms, Poems, and Essays)
These words were first published as part of the essay “For Love of Paris and a More Compassionate World” following terrorist attacks on the city November 13, 2015. The quotation has since been adopted by groups ranging from students’ civic clubs and online study groups to social service nonprofits and political organizations. It has proven particularly popular in different countries on the continent of Africa. Here are two examples:
Individual Cultures quotation social graphic posted in South Africa
Sign featuring quote on Individual Cultures by Aberjhani created by Facebook user in Kenya.
This third social graphic comes from the United States’ Kearsarge Food Hub in New Hampshire.
Many additional artsy social graphics employing the same words indicate a hunger for something other than the tensions which exist between members of different demographics on different continents in different communities. More importantly, educators, conference speakers, various thought leaders, and men and women from diverse backgrounds are not just quoting the words. They are living the truth behind them and demonstrating the greater unifying possibilities which come with embracing our shared humanity. Few realizations could be considered more important during a COVID-19 pandemic which apparently does not play favorites.
Aberjhani Author, Poet, Artist Harlem Renaissance Centennial 2020
Detail "Greeting Flannery O'Connor at the Back Door of My Mind" poster art featuring quote from poem "History and Prophets' Prerogatives." Artwork by Aberjhani now available on Fine Art America and Pixels.com.
Working around the different restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic set back the publication of Greeting Flannery O’Connor at the Back Door of My Mind in more ways than I could have anticipated by almost 6 months. Let’s face, production under these circumstances is a big issue for everybody. The intense events and mounting urgencies of #TheYear2020, however, reemphasized repeatedly the need to keep pushing forward and get the job done. So with the help of a few friends I have done exactly that and am pleased to announce the date of the planned global launch for the title is Labor Day September 7.
Some of you know already that a soft launch recently kicked off with 3 events: 1) the Greeting Flannery (GF)book info page published at Bright Skylark Literary Productions; 2) corresponding artwork posted for sale at Fine Art America and Pixels.com; and 3) fun-type trivia and quiz questions posted on Goodreads. Here’s the current extended schedule of planned launch events:
Schedule of Events
SEPTEMBER 1 - 30: GF artwork available at 35 percent off using PROMO Code GFGJZH at Fine Art America and Pixels.com. Prints so far include “Converging Grace” with and without quotation text; and, a mixed media visual incorporating the cover of the book into a collage composed of different symbolic pieces. Please Note: THE IMAGE SEEN WITH THIS POST IS A DETAIL FROM “CONVERGING GRACE” WITH QUOTATION TEXT (the quote being from the book and by me).
SEPT 1: Multi-language “Conversations with the World” series kicks off with focus on posters featuring in different languages quotes from my writings which have become, or which are becoming, parts of international dialogues on our human condition.
SEPT 1: New GF artwork posting on noted websites plus pages here on FB and at Bright Skylark.