Day 3 - February 19
WTS MTS 1979; WTS Founder and Director Emerita of the Henry Luce Center for the Arts and Religion, 1983-2007; WTS Distinguished Artist-in-Residence, 2009-2019
|Morning Theme Song:||
~ Inspired by Isaiah 58:1-2 &
Countee Cullen's Black Christ
I recoil at the memory that triggered this work’s creation. In 1978, I read Countee Cullen’s wrenching poem, “Black Christ”, in which a young black man is lynched. Overwhelmed, I sought relief by taking handsome brown/black cloth and tearing at it with needles, razor blade, and a small scissor until a tormented face and torso appeared. I stitched this tortured black body to a predominantly white material with brown lines, inundating his body with white stitches. Upon completion I tucked away my “Frayed Christ”.
Fifteen years later when Yale Divinity School commissioned me to speak and create a work for their Biennial Symposium in Art and Theology titled “Crossed Cultures”, I retrieved “Frayed Christ”, amplified it visually with brutal images of racism, and risked ensconcing it in Yale's hilltop Georgian chapel chancel. How fitting I thought, with all the racial inequities that suffocate New Haven just beyond this pristine campus’s boundaries. I concluded my speech at the chapel’s lectern, my work behind me, with readings from “Black Christ”. In a stunning moment of silence, immediately a single hand shot up, and acknowledging it, I was shot down and silenced, literally silenced. The person was the organizing department chairman.
But risk we must -- to rebirth a just country in deadly decline. This work was returned to Wesley because a now deceased professor, Dr. Lawrence Stookey demanded it. During our chapel renovation, it was removed and tucked away. Nineteen years later, it was rediscovered and hung in a WTS stairwell by our Luce Center’s curator. I take no pleasure in its continued relevance.
Now that it has resurfaced with a new name, I hope that those who see it will be inspired to - “Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet!” (Isaiah 58:1-2).