Pulling From Our Roots - Black Disabled Painters Then & Now


root - Posted on 01 January 2000

An art Show on Disabled Artists of color

An art Show on Disabled Artists of color

 
 

by Leroy Moore/ DAMO - PNN

Inspiration from the past adds to the vision of Harambee’s 2003 KUUMBA Art Show (KUUMBA meaning creativity in Swahili) on Jan. 25th at Oakland Library, Eastmount Branch. The organizing around the first and hopefully annual KUUMBA Art show that will display paintings and other visual artworks from disabled African Americans have stimulate me to do some research on some well known African American painters of our times. By surprise I also found that three major African Americans Painters, Horace Pippin, William H. Johnson and Jacob Lawrence all experienced some type of disability that showed up in their paintings. These artists\painters all painted the struggles and beauty of their people during their times, Horace Pippin 1888-1946, William H. Johnson 1901-1970 and Jacob Lawrence 1917 -2000.

All three seemed to follow the same migration from the South to the East, New York City. In search of a community that will accept them as a Black man, an artist and they were all touched by and painted the poverty of the Depression Era, war and segregation of Black soldiers etc. Although they acquired their disability later in their life, their stories should be held up for disabled African American artists and youth. Their life, art and struggle to get known are medicine that heals my feelings of being alone as an outspoken, African American disabled artist\activist and gives me a history to pass down to young disabled African Americans.

Horace Pippin became disabled in War World I by a bullet in his right shoulder. Although he always enjoyed drawing he said that, "World War I brought out the art in me…" He taught himself to paint with his left hand by guiding it with his wounded arm. In his 1943, painting, Man on a Bench, a self-portrait, shows his life-long battle with depression. Like many Black artists, writers and advocates in history and even today gave and continue to give so much but hasn’t and often today still don’t receive recognition for their artistic talents and massages they have displayed and deeply believe in. KUUMBA will be an annual platform for public awareness and recognition of the artistic talents of disabled African Americans. The struggle of recognition of Williams Henry Johnson and his artwork is a tragic story of how many talented Black artist\advocates have been invisible in the artistic circles of their times only to be uncovered after their death. The last 22 years of Williams Henry Johnson life was spent in a Long Island’s Central Islip State Hospital, New York's largest mental heath facility and at one point the second largest institution of its kind in the world. Johnson was diagnose with an advance case of syphilis-induced paresis causing server mental illness while the State of New York kept his paintings in a shack for almost 17 years without telling his parents of his art collection, his residency at the state hospital and his death in 1970.

Although he didn’t paint while he was in the state mental institution, in his last series, Fighters for Freedom, you can see that his mental illness affected his motor skills returning to more primitive and simple formats compare to his early paintings. Although his paintings were considered to be "juke" his legal Guardian from the courts and the Smithsonian Institution kept the paintings from his family. They restored them which led to a new found fame of his paintings to the artistic audience while he remained in Central Islip State Hospital not knowing that his artwork have finally found an audience. All three painters struggled with depression. This is no surprise during the times they lived; extreme poverty, racism, war and lack of access to health care almost is the mirror of what African Americans are going through today. In Jacob Lawrence’ Hospital Series, he captures a different story compared to William Henry Johnson. While Johnson didn’t paint, Jacob Lawrence was inspired while he was hospitalized for his depression. In 1949 Jacob Lawrence admitted himself into the Hillside Hospital, a psychiatric hospital, for treatment for his battle with depression for almost a year. He continued to paint and painted eleven paintings some dealt with what he saw and the daily events in the hospital, Creative Therapy and Depression, received good care and had deep feelings of people with mental illness and the field of psychiatry while he was there.

KUUMBA Art show is pulling from our roots as disabled African Americans in the US and also in the new post-Apartheid, South Africa. December 3rd of 2001 South Africa celebrated the International Day of Disabled Persons by holding Vis-Ability Arts Festival aim to use the arts as a vehicle to not only raise awareness, but to give special recognition to artists with various disabilities. It focused on artists with disabilities, also celebrates artists without disabilities, a move toward an integrated society and arts environment. Vis-Ability Arts Festival is held annually in the City of Cape Town. Dan Rakgoathe, who is blind, Tommy Motswai, who is deaf and physical disabled artists exhibited their paintings which explored their experiences as being disabled and politics of South Africa.

KUUMBA is adding to this history of artistic expression by displaying the struggles, daily life, activism and beauty of African Americans with disabilities, youth and adults through visual artwork of the Bay Area. Like many Black artists were attracted to Harlem , NY and created the Black Arts Movement, Harambee hopes to do the same with KUUMBA for Black disabled artists here in the Bay Area. The day will consist of video screening of, Life Itself, starring the multi-talented poet and painter, Michael Bernard Loggins, poetry, music, food and an exhibit of paintings, drawing and other visual artwork by disabled African American youth and adults i.e. Halisi Noel-Johnson plus info about Harambee, DAMO and Accessible Technology. The art exhibit will stay up at the Oakland Library, Eastmount Mall Branch through Black History Mouth, February till March.

KUUMBA INFO
WHEN: Jan. 25th 2003
TIME: 3-5pm
WHERE: Oakland Public Library
Eastmount Mall (Library)
7200 Bancroft Ave.
CONTACT: Sonia Ricks (510) 428-2990

*************************************************

Break the Frame; Tell it like it is
A poem in tribute by Leroy Moore

A broken frame
eliminates Webster’s definition
Art comes from within

Horace Pippin
self taught, who would of thought
a Black, poor, WWI Veteran

with a wounded arm
became the foremost artist
of the twentieth century

"Pictures just come to my mind,
and I tell my heart to go ahead."
Decorating discarded cigar boxes with charcoal

Creating his own unique painting style
burning images on wood panels
using a hot iron poker for the color

Pippin opened a new avenue
Leading to a display for public view
Colorful and painful experiences scratching to get out

Years of his Creative Therapy equaled
The End of War: Starting Home
by using his left arm to prop up his right forearm

crafting his first masterpiece that depicted horrors of war

Hunting memories
surfaced a deep depression
painting was his medicine

Reminded the country
"there was war then but there will be peace again."
Saw more discrimination

against the next generation of Black soldiers in WWII

"I paint it exactly how I see it!"
Mr. Prejudice
waiting for Black soldiers back in the U.S.

Supported by his family
traded his paintings in lieu of payment for food
at Black businesses in PA’s West Chester community

Free from influences of academy
expressing himself in his own way
finally received some recognition

The price he paid
for being Black, poor, self taught and disabled
caught him in two worlds

Took a toll
Although his paintings sold
Pippin lived on the brink of poverty

Felt the pressure of the art industry
broke up his family
wife addicted to diet pills

trying to get Pippin’s attention
had a break down and slipped into a mental confusion
she died in a mental institution

Look into the eyes
of the Man on a Bench
tells Pippin’s story and depicts the future

of Black painters
who followed in Pippin’s footsteps
Beauford Delancy, William H. Johnson and Jacob Lawrence

all felt the sting of being Black and an artist
so they displayed it in their paintings
Loved art but mentally crumbled under the tension of racism

Pippin the first Black disabled painter
broke the frame of ‘what is art’
Delancy continued to paint although he went insane

Lawrence told his experiences
through the‘Hospital Series’
Fame didn’t reach Johnson or Delancy
who were isolated & forgotten behind institutional white walls
while outside governments, court guardians, friends and art critics
fought over their art and personal property

Their names and messages almost faded from art history
A few Black scholars have put them back on the page and in art galleries
But very few go into depth about their disability

A broken frame
opens up the mind to endless possibilities
Like Pippin adapt to your situation but always display

Peoples’ beauty, the inequalities and injustice in society

*************************************************

 

Pulling From Our Roots Black Disabled Artists\Painters Then & Now

Inspiration from the past adds to the vision of Harambee’s 2003 KUUMBA Art Show (KUUMBA meaning creativity in Swahili) on Jan. 25th at Oakland Library, Eastmount Branch. The organizing around the first and hopefully annual KUUMBA Art show that will display paintings and other visual artworks from disabled African Americans have stimulate me to do some research on some well known African American painters of our times. By surprise I also found that three major African Americans Painters, Horace Pippin, William H. Johnson and Jacob Lawrence all experienced some type of disability that showed up in their paintings. These artists\painters all painted the struggles and beauty of their people during their times, Horace Pippin 1888-1946, William H. Johnson 1901-1970 and Jacob Lawrence 1917 -2000.

All three seemed to follow the same migration from the South to the East, New York City. In search of a community that will accept them as a Black man, an artist and they were all touched by and painted the poverty of the Depression Era, war and segregation of Black soldiers etc. Although they acquired their disability later in their life, their stories should be held up for disabled African American artists and youth. Their life, art and struggle to get known are medicine that heals my feelings of being alone as an outspoken, African American disabled artist\activist and gives me a history to pass down to young disabled African Americans.

Horace Pippin became disabled in War World I by a bullet in his right shoulder. Although he always enjoyed drawing he said that, "World War I brought out the art in me…" He taught himself to paint with his left hand by guiding it with his wounded arm. In his 1943, painting, Man on a Bench, a self-portrait, shows his life-long battle with depression. Like many Black artists, writers and advocates in history and even today gave and continue to give so much but hasn’t and often today still don’t receive recognition for their artistic talents and massages they have displayed and deeply believe in. KUUMBA will be an annual platform for public awareness and recognition of the artistic talents of disabled African Americans. The struggle of recognition of Williams Henry Johnson and his artwork is a tragic story of how many talented Black artist\advocates have been invisible in the artistic circles of their times only to be uncovered after their death. The last 22 years of Williams Henry Johnson life was spent in a Long Island’s Central Islip State Hospital, New York's largest mental heath facility and at one point the second largest institution of its kind in the world. Johnson was diagnose with an advance case of syphilis-induced paresis causing server mental illness while the State of New York kept his paintings in a shack for almost 17 years without telling his parents of his art collection, his residency at the state hospital and his death in 1970.

Although he didn’t paint while he was in the state mental institution, in his last series, Fighters for Freedom, you can see that his mental illness affected his motor skills returning to more primitive and simple formats compare to his early paintings. Although his paintings were considered to be "juke" his legal Guardian from the courts and the Smithsonian Institution kept the paintings from his family. They restored them which led to a new found fame of his paintings to the artistic audience while he remained in Central Islip State Hospital not knowing that his artwork have finally found an audience. All three painters struggled with depression. This is no surprise during the times they lived; extreme poverty, racism, war and lack of access to health care almost is the mirror of what African Americans are going through today. In Jacob Lawrence’ Hospital Series, he captures a different story compared to William Henry Johnson. While Johnson didn’t paint, Jacob Lawrence was inspired while he was hospitalized for his depression. In 1949 Jacob Lawrence admitted himself into the Hillside Hospital, a psychiatric hospital, for treatment for his battle with depression for almost a year. He continued to paint and painted eleven paintings some dealt with what he saw and the daily events in the hospital, Creative Therapy and Depression, received good care and had deep feelings of people with mental illness and the field of psychiatry while he was there.

KUUMBA Art show is pulling from our roots as disabled African Americans in the US and also in the new post-Apartheid, South Africa. December 3rd of 2001 South Africa celebrated the International Day of Disabled Persons by holding Vis-Ability Arts Festival aim to use the arts as a vehicle to not only raise awareness, but to give special recognition to artists with various disabilities. It focused on artists with disabilities, also celebrates artists without disabilities, a move toward an integrated society and arts environment. Vis-Ability Arts Festival is held annually in the City of Cape Town. Dan Rakgoathe, who is blind, Tommy Motswai, who is deaf and physical disabled artists exhibited their paintings which explored their experiences as being disabled and politics of South Africa.

KUUMBA is adding to this history of artistic expression by displaying the struggles, daily life, activism and beauty of African Americans with disabilities, youth and adults through visual artwork of the Bay Area. Like many Black artists were attracted to Harlem , NY and created the Black Arts Movement, Harambee hopes to do the same with KUUMBA for Black disabled artists here in the Bay Area. The day will consist of video screening of, Life Itself, starring the multi-talented poet and painter, Michael Bernard Loggins, poetry, music, food and an exhibit of paintings, drawing and other visual artwork by disabled African American youth and adults i.e. Halisi Noel-Johnson plus info about Harambee, DAMO and Accessible Technology. The art exhibit will stay up at the Oakland Library, Eastmount Mall Branch through Black History Mouth, February till March.

KUUMBA INFO
WHEN: Jan. 25th 2003
TIME: 3-5pm
WHERE: Oakland Public Library
Eastmount Mall (Library)
7200 Bancroft Ave.
CONTACT: Sonia Ricks (510) 428-2990

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