The Owuo Atwedee Adinkra (“the ladder of death”) symbolizes mortality and the transitory nature of existence.
So far, in the 1001 Black Men series of drawings, I have focused on depicting the Black men I encounter in my daily life in the East Bay. I draw the men I meet or who simply catch my eye.
For the next week or so, though, I’d like to change course. The next several drawings depict men of African descent who have died during the last 12 or so months. Although I never met any of the Black men memorialized in these posts, my deep feelings of connection to their artistry, their activism, their achievements, and–in some cases–their suffering made the news of their loss feel local and personal.
You will notice that, in each of the drawings in this grouping, I use compositional and symbolic elements taken from early North African and Mediterranean portraits of the saints. I was influenced, in particular, by some of the Coptic Christian paintings of Ethiopian Icons.
Each figure is surrounded by a halo. Also called a nimbus and sometimes shaped as a triangle, it can be either an outline or a solid shape. Though often associated with sacred images, the nimbus/halo has historically been used to depict figures of importance, including saints and holy figures as well as military, political, or cultural heroes.
With each post, I will include a brief excerpt from a recent biography or obituary.
I did the outline for this sketch at Peet’s in the Temescal area of Oakland. I added the background image and colors a few days later. The image in the background captures a scene from the Great Migration, during which unprecedented numbers of African Americans moved from the South to the North. The photo was made around 1919 and it depicts a migrating Black family, newly arrived in Chicago.
Ever since I completed my Black Santa ‘zine, I’ve been hyper aware of those older brothers who have Black Santa potential. This man was shopping at the Berkeley Bowl on one of those warm pre-Christmas shopping days that blew through the Bay Area last week. He was wearing a dark v-neck T-shirt that showed off his impressively muscular upper-body. If Black Santa was a body builder, he’d probably look like this guy.
Before there was Megyn Kelly’s declaration that Santa and Jesus are both white, there was A Blues for Black Santa.
Imagine my surprise when, less than a week after I debuted this ‘zine (at the East Bay Alternative Book and Zine Fest, the Megyn Kelly white Santa story hit the news. I cannot say that my piece is a response to the rantings of this Fox News reporter, but I have enjoyed its unexpected timeliness.
A Blues for Black Santa is a humorous appeal for recognition from Black Santa himself, told in rhyme.
To read the whole A Blues for Black Santa ‘zine, follow THIS LINK.
To buy the ‘zine, go to my ETSY store. The centerfold of the paper version is a full-color 11″ x 17″ Black Santa fashion poster.
One more thing: If you want to leave Black Santa a snack, he’s willing to accept cookies and milk, but what he really would love is a nice big slice of pound cake and a tall, cold glass of sweet tea.