When word gets out that Leslie King-Hammond is going to be in a city and is going to speak, lovers of art usually show up in ample numbers. They know that in the world of art history experts, she is a curator who knows her stuff.
King-Hammond, whose many accomplishments include having taught art history for 35 years at the Maryland Institute College of Art, was center stage over the weekend as the Dixon Gallery and Gardens opened its Winegardner Auditorium doors to dozens who came to see and hear her lectured on African Americans and Bible imagery.
From now through Jan. 5, the Dixon is home to the exhibit Ashe to Amen – African Americans and Biblical Imagery. It features the wealth and breadth of African-American artists' interpretations of Biblical stories and traditions in historic and contemporary art.
King-Hammond – Ph.D., Graduate Dean Emerita/ Founding Director, Center for Race and Culture at the Maryland Institute College of Art – is the curator.
Ashe (pronounced AH-shay) is a Yoruba term used in western Nigeria. At the end of every prayer, salutation, greeting, or event, the word ashe gives closure to that moment ("so be it" or "and it is so"). As Africans came into the United States, South America and Canada, Christianity co-mingled with the African belief systems. Ashe gave way to amen.
The exhibition features beautiful paintings and handcrafted pieces that "demonstrates how a distinct aesthetic, representative of shared cultural experiences, yet always deeply personal, developed among generations of artists of the African Diaspora living and working in the United States."
It touches on an array of historical elements, including slavery, the emancipation, the birth of the Harlem Renaissance, and the civil rights movement.
King-Hammond told attendees that artwork hanging in the Dixon tells an enormously fascinating story of how artists from different parts of the United States and the world have had different religious experiences and are still talking about the power of those experiences in retrospect of African sensibilities, African-American heritage, and the importance it has to the community and families.
Art lovers and viewers can expect a wonderful time looking at the variety, versatility and diversity of the artwork.
"The artists have created pieces that translate what is very personal, private, and intimate experiences into celebratory, joyful revelations of how to celebrate the world in the spirit," said King-Hammond.
In a written reflection distributed prior to King-Hammond's appearance at the Dixon, she said of the exhibit, "There is no uniform or monolithic African American art. ...
"The works in the exhibition find common ground in representing visions of life and philosophical beliefs that emerged from a distinctive American culture that has developed and evolved over centuries and are now a unique addition to the broader field of American art."
Church bulletins yield free passes to Ashe to Amen
Church bulletins will serve as a free pass for visitors and their families during the entire run of Ashe to Amen: African Americans and Biblical Imagery.
The remarkable wealth and breadth of African-American artists' interpretations of Biblical stories and traditions in historic and contemporary is on view at the Dixon Gallery Gardens now through January 5, 2014.
"We are eager to welcome the many congregations of Memphis to this powerful show at the Dixon," said Dixon Director Kevin Sharp.
Ashe to Amen: African Americans and Biblical Imagery is organized by the Museum of Biblical Art in New York and investigates the ever-shifting intersections of aesthetics and belief. Themes that recur throughout Ashe to Amen include creation, revelation, faith, liberation, and identity.
Church bulletins will serve as free admission to the exhibition as well as to any of the following Ashe to Amen related events:
• Munch and Learn: Plants of the Bible with Director of Horticulture, Dale Skaggs, Oct. 23, noon;
• Munch and Learn: Can I have a Hallelujah? With local artist, Robin Salant Nov. 6, noon;
• FREE Dixon Family Day: Nov. 16, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
• Munch and Learn: Depicting Religion-Spirituality in the Work of African American Artists with Dr. Earnestine Jenkins, Art History Associate Professor, University of Memphis, Dec. 18, noon.
• Art after Dark: Ashe to Amen; Musical performance by Hattiloo Theatre members and 7 p.m. tour by Dr. Earnestine Jenkins Dec. 19, 6 p.m.-9 p.m.
• Mighty Kings of Harmony Concert: Jan. 4, 6 p.m.