Some weeks ago, I had an opportunity to chat with a teenager who sought me out to discuss my art with her as part of a school project she was doing. She asked me which of my pieces I would consider having been my “Magnum Opus.” It took me a few moments to recognize the depth of her question… my Magnum Opus…. After all, I have completed and sold a couple thousand original paintings since I had taken up painting professionally in late 2004. I rolled my eyes as I gave thought. My Magnum Opus-
There were two pieces that would qualify. The first is a piece called “Forced Entry” and the other titled “August Morning.” Both paintings are 40"x 30" acrylic on canvas pieces. Both paintings depict snapshots of our slave history, with Forced Entry showing a group of captured black men and women shackled with metal collars around their necks allowing them to be chained together as they are being transported into slavery. he second painting "August Morning," depicts a group of men and women of African extraction looking towards the sunlit hills, their backs to the plantations of the Caribbean as they enter a new realm of existence on August 1st, 1838 – the realm of freedom from slavery. My Introduction to Race issues As I thought about the conversation with the student, I could not help reflecting on the issue of Race here in America, and its impact on me since moving here a decade and a half ago. After all, growing up in Jamaica, I had very little interest in issues of Race during my youth. As an adult, I had retraced my ancestral steps enough to know that my great grandparents would have been slaves in Jamaica but what ignited my consciousness as a nineteen-year-old was the Soweto Uprising, when on June 16, 1976, the South African police confronted protesting students in Soweto. In the end more than 176 students were butchered. The event brought to life all of what I had learned in my West Indian History classes in earlier years. Migrating to America
Three decades later, I moved to the United States of America, shortly after Barack Obama was elected President. I watched in horror, the opposition that his election generated among sections of the American population. That opposition turned to anger and generated a level of derision and hate for Black people in America, that is only matched by the brutality of slavery and the Civil Rights period in America.
"Augus Mawnin" (August Morning) Original painting by Richard Hugh Blackford
Attempts to whitewash Black History As bad as things have been in Jamaica, nothing could have prepared me for what has transpired here in the last decade. In addition to the legislative protections afforded to the country’s Black population, and now the very history of Black people in this country has become a target, with the Florida Board of Education a week ago approving new standards which require instruction for middle school students to include “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” The new rules require that instruction include “acts of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans.” Topics like the 1920 Ocoee massacre which is considered the deadliest Election Day violence in US history and, according to several histories of the incident, it started when Moses Norman, a prominent Black landowner in the Ocoee, Florida, community, attempted to cast his ballot and was turned away by White poll workers. Similar standards are noted for lessons about other massacres, including the Atlanta race massacre, the Tulsa race massacre, and the Rosewood race massacre.
My Art is a Teaching Tool I pointed out to the student that I use my art primarily as a communication tool. Every Black man, woman and child in the Americas and the wider Caribbean are impacted by the history contained in these two paintings. On a personal level, these two pieces provide links to all my ancestors, especially my great-great grandparents who were part of West Indian chattel slavery and provides a pictorial representation of the pain they and millions of other black men, women and children suffered because of the yoke of slavery. It was bad enough that as a race, Blacks had to deal with the indignity of humankind’s greatest crime. What is becoming increasingly worse is the fact that we are being asked to forget about it. To pretend that it never happened and to top it off, we are now being force-fed a rewrite of that history, designed to soothe the consciences of the descendants of its perpetrators. As an artist, I cannot allow my history to we whitewashed, so I will record it on my canvasses for succeeding generations to share.