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‘Requiem for Mother Emanuel’: Artist hopes his tribute to Emanuel 9 reflects hope in midst of loss

From the Orangeburg Times and Democrat Article by Dionne Gleaton, photo by Larry Hardy
In keeping with his roots in a holiness church, artist Leo Twiggs has a testimony he wants to share with the world. It speaks of the range of emotions he felt following the horrific mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston nearly a year ago.
Twiggs lets his art do the talking for him, though, through his use of batik, an ancient technique of manual wax-resistant dyeing applied to whole cloth. He spent many long nights over the course of several weeks manually dyeing and dipping fabric pieces to achieve a texturally rich and deep-toned series titled “Requiem for Mother Emanuel.”
Nine people, including Senior Pastor and state Sen. Clementa C. Pinckney, were killed by a gunman during a Bible study session at Emanuel AME Church on June 17, 2015.
The tragedy gained worldwide attention and emotionally moved Twiggs, who said his images for “Requiem for Mother Emanuel” did not actually begin as a series.
“The whole idea behind the Mother Emanuel series did not come as a series. I did not think of it as a series. I was doing one painting and that painting was in reaction right after the event happened,” the artist said.
His body of work will be exhibited at The City Gallery in Charleston from Tuesday, June 21 to Sunday, July 31. The City of Charleston is dedicating the entire first floor of the gallery for the display of Twiggs’ work. The paintings will be accompanied by a seven-minute video in which he talks about the nine images and his inspiration behind each.
The “Requiem for Mother Emanuel” exhibition is part of a nine-day remembrance the City of Charleston is hosting to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the church shooting.
“During that period, the exhibit will be open to the members of the church and survivors of the victims for private viewing,” Twiggs said.

‘This is about nine people that perished’

A target and the number nine are symbols that appear in the series, along with the Confederate flag, a symbol that Twiggs has used in his paintings since the 1970s.
“I go all the way back with both the target and the Confederate flag as part of the images in my work. I did a whole series on ‘Targeted Man,’ and I did a series using the Confederate flag,” he said.
The artist said he felt the Emanuel AME Church, often referred to as Mother Emanuel, was the target for such horrible violence because of its rich history. Founded in 1816, Emanuel AME is the oldest African Methodist Episcopal church in the Southern United States and is the first independent black denomination in the United States.
“Denmark Vesey was a pastor of the church at one time. Charleston probably has more churches than any other single place in South Carolina, but he picked that church because of what it meant to black people,” Twiggs said. “So my first image was this target and this silhouette of the church.”
He said he chose not to reproduce an actual picture of the Emanuel AME Church in the first image of the series, whose pieces were all done in batik on cotton.
“One of the things I didn’t want to do as an artist is to just put a picture of the church because when you paint and put just a picture of the church, you tie everything to a single church, when it’s really about churches. So what I did was create a kind of symbol of a church, a kind of imagery that could be any church. That piece was done in 2015 right after the horrible incident,” he said.
The second image was actually started in 2015 and finished this year.
“I used the flag and the number nine because that’s what it was all about. And it was at night, so I tried to suggest a kind of dark sky, said Twiggs, whose third piece also contained a blood-stained Confederate flag with nine X’s at the bottom of it.
Twiggs said the flag became more like a stain on the starkly white church in his fourth painting.
“I just saw what happened at Emanuel as a stain on this white church. Here is this blood stain on this white church that was really a metaphor for a white garment that somebody’s wearing and gets a terrible stain on. So the flag is there, but it becomes like a blood stain,” he said, noting that the nine multi-colored X‘s at the bottom of the flag represented the nine shooting victims.
“An X means somebody has passed, or that somebody is no longer with us. I don’t know why I used the different colors. I suspect it’s because I wanted to match up with the colors on the flag, but I think it also kind of represents that these were different people,” Twiggs said. “Some were young, some were old.”
He said each of his paintings is a testimony to the nine slain church members.
“They are single paintings that live on their own right. It’s like a testimony,” Twiggs said.
The Confederate flag become a recurring symbol in Twiggs’ “Requiem” series, and it is splashed across the surface of the church. It eventually morphs into a cross on a blood-stained background and then changes into a cross with the red drained from it.
Twiggs said there is somewhat of a transition made in the fifth painting, when the Confederate flag becomes “smaller and less prominent.”
“In this one, the blood of the flag has completely disappeared. … This is the flag, but there are nine stars and the flag is now morphing into a cross,” he said. “This is patterned fabric. This is the only one where I’ve used patterned fabric on it.”
Twiggs said he took a tour of the inside of the church, images of which are included in his sixth piece.
“I had not been inside the church in years. My art teacher at Claflin, Arthur Rose, was a member of that church. So I had been to that church early on, but it had been a long time. I just felt if I was going to do a Mother Emanuel series, I had to see where they died,” he said.
He was particularly moved by a massive stained glass window that was located near the church’s altar. He included its likeness in his sixth image, along with the Confederate flag’s continued morph into the image of a white cross.
“I wanted to get the feeling of what was inside the church. What’s amazing is one side of the church is starkly white, but inside it’s warm and has got all of that old wood. It looks historic,” said the artist, whose sixth image also includes the Palmetto Tree and crescent moon, symbols from the state flag.
Twiggs includes all three symbols of the Confederate flag, the target and the number nine in his seventh image, along with crosses representing the souls of the victims.
“I look at it and think of it as a summary because I used the flag, but the bloodiness is now gone. I used the target as I did on the first one, and then the number nine, which I also used in the second one. So kind of all the things that are incorporated in those paintings are in this particular piece,” he said. “And, of course, you have the crosses of the souls of these people rising and the moon.”
He intended for the title of the series to reflect hope in the midst of great loss, the artist said.
“The reason this is called ‘Requiem’ is because this isn’t about the living. This is about the nine people that perished in this horrible, horrific incident. Nobody knows what happens to you when you die but in the Christian religion, you are transformed from a physical being to a spiritual being,” he said.
“And I try to represent that spiritual being with the cross because the way Christians get to their final destination is the way Christ went to his destination — through the cross. So these people obviously were Christians, and for them that is the journey I try to portray them taking — that rising up from their church to another place,” Twiggs said.
That image is vividly shown in his eighth painting, where a white line of demarcation separates the church from the heavenly place that Christians seek to reach in the afterlife. A darker blue suggests the horror the victims endured on earth, but a lighter blue emanates from above.
“That’s where the sky is bluer, and in there I have a lot of crosses because we call our funerals ‘home going ceremonies.’ We’re going to meet our relatives who went on before us; they’re all up there waiting for us. So when I’m doing this, I’m very steeped in African-American culture and traditions,” Twiggs said.
Deciding how to end the series with his final painting was something the artist struggled with. He thought about how the church was located less than a mile and a half from where Africans were brought to America as slaves and less than a mile from where the Civil War began.
“Mother Emanuel is less than a mile from where Africans were brought ashore and sold on Market Street in Charleston. Mother Emanuel was in a very unique place and is a very unique place. It’s the place where Denmark Vesey tried for freedom and was killed.
“I thought about the history of Mother Emanuel and I also thought that (what happened at) Mother Emanuel is not unique to us. It happened in Birmingham with four little girls. It happened in North Charleston when the guy was shot in the back. … This is the stony road we trod,” Twiggs said, referring to the lyrics of James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the National Black Anthem.
It was another line from that song, however, that kept coming back to him and was included in his ninth piece: “We have come over a way that with tears has been watered. We have come treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered.”
“Those two lines explain Mother Emanuel perfectly,” Twiggs said. “If the victims could speak, what would they say? They have said, ‘We have come treading a path through the blood of the slaughtered,’ and this is what has happened to many of us.”
“So what I wanted in this last one is to kind of sum up and give people the perspective of what Mother Emanuel really means to us as African-Americans. It’s a place that speaks about our journey, the pain of a journey that is repeated over and over when you look at our history,” he said.
In the final image, a number nine sits above the lines from Weldon’s song.
‘Our state’s finest hour’
Twiggs said the seven-minute video that accompanies his series was developed with a $10,000 donation from a group of art patrons in Greenville who have purchased his work over the years. The video was produced by Greenville-based Sailwind Pictures.
Twiggs said the director of Greenville’s Hampton III Gallery gave the donors an opportunity to preview his works and see the video during a special reception. The gallery is the state’s longest operating art gallery in which Twiggs has been a member since 1972.
“It was really a great afternoon. Once you see the video and these works, it gives a whole new perspective of what I was doing,” he said.
The Johnson Collection of Spartanburg acquired the last three of the nine paintings, Twiggs said.
“One of the most significant (art) collections in South Carolina decided to buy all three paintings and to donate them to two national museums and to keep one that so that it could be loaned to museums in our state,” he said. “That, to me, was nice.”
Another donor funded the printing of 5,000 brochures containing images of the paintings and an essay, all of which will be available at Twiggs’ exhibit at The City Gallery in Charleston.
“If you take the brochure, the exhibit could live forever. I’m so proud of that,” the artist said, noting that an artist’s reception is scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, July 8 at The City Gallery following the nine-day anniversary commemoration of the church shooting.
“We’re not doing anything formal when they’re having the anniversary because that’s a quiet time. When they’re having the anniversary, the only thing is that the families of the victims will know that the works are in the gallery,” Twiggs said.
South Carolina ETV also filmed a documentary about the creation of Twiggs’ paintings on June 2. Beryl Dakers, who retired from ETV but continues to work on special projects, is a long-time friend of Twiggs, and she filmed the documentary.
“I know Beryl is also supposed to be going to Charleston to do something with Mother Emanuel. I think she’s going to do some interviews and everything else and then feature the documentary with that. So she’s putting together this documentary,” Twiggs said, noting that the documentary will likely air following the nine-day remembrance,
Bradley Glenn, an award-winning documentary producer from California, is also working on a 60- to 80-minute documentary about Twiggs’ work called “Leo Twiggs: Crossing Over.”
“He plans to bring a crew to Charleston to cover the Emanuel event. So I’ll probably be going down there for that. His documentary is not just about Mother Emanuel,” but he wants it to be a part of it, Twiggs said.
“He (Glenn) said, “I want to get you with some of the survivors.’ I said, ‘I’ve got to wait and see whether they want to do that.’ So he’s going to be in and out of town. It’s going to be interesting to see what he does,” the artist said.
Twiggs said what he hopes to do is contribute to the healing of the community in the aftermath of the church shooting with his works of art.
“When an event happens, there are people who want to write about it, there are people who want to talk about it and there are people who want to paint about it. I said in the video that after Mother Emanuel, it was our state’s finest hour because for the first time that I can remember, we came together as one,” he said.
“It was not about the color of our skin or status, but as one human being in relation to another human being. And, if anything, I hope that the paintings record that moment so that when people look at the paintings, they could say that a tragic thing happened at a church, but what happened as a result of that thing was something that had not happened in our state before.”
Entry to Twiggs’ “Requiem for Mother Emanuel” exhibit is free to the public. The City Gallery is located at 34 Prioleau St. in Charleston. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday. The gallery is closed on Monday. For more information, call the gallery at 843-958-6484.

Emanuel AME Church massacre inspires haunting new series by Dr. Leo Twiggs

From ArtReport.com Article by Alison Sher

[caption id="attachment_25902" align="alignright" width="200"]Leo Twiggs Leo Twiggs; photo by Jerry Siegel[/caption] Dr. Leo Twiggs was one of the first African Americans to earn success as a visual artist in the newly integrated academic landscape of the 1960s. Twiggs paints in batik, a craft that’s so old it’s been found in the tombs of Egypt. He’s the first person to experiment with the method as a painting medium. Twiggs uses wax, dyes, and muslin cotton fabric to reimagine the often oppressive scenes and symbols that he sees living in the South. His latest series, a nine piece collection, Requiem for Mother Emanuel, is a reflection on the June 2015 shooting at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, SC where nine African Americans were murdered during a bible study. Art Report: What has it been like working as an African American artist since the civil rights movement? Dr. Leo Twiggs: In the beginning, African American art wasn’t in museums. Then there were shows specifically for African American artists. If you were featured, critics wouldn’t talk about your art. The African American artists, however, were great artists who eventually became accepted into the mainstream. Major museums are now beginning to collect the work of African American artists. They  realize that African American art is still American art, and you can’t tell the story of America without including African American artists. AR: What inspires the themes of your different collections? LT: I think an artist paints out of his own encounters with the world. I deal with specifics and that’s what makes my work universal. I paint about the struggle of being second class and put in a corner. When I paint a confederate flag, people don’t know if it’s by a black or white person. People fly that flag like the war is still going on. I wanted to portray it as an old tattered object that I pulled out of a trunk after 150 years. I also did a series called Targeted Man. I grew up with the KKK in my neighborhood. Being targeted is an experience all African Americans can relate to. When 9/11 happened, everyone in America felt targeted. AR: How did the Mother Emanuel massacre effect you? [caption id="attachment_25904" align="alignright" width="200"]Leo Twiggs, Requiem for Mother Emanuel #2 Leo Twiggs, Requiem for Mother Emanuel #2[/caption] LT: I grew up 45 minutes outside of Charleston. My first art professor was a member of that church. Before doing this series, the last time I went there was for his funeral. I’m doing this series because I have to do it. Something inside me is driving it. I’ve finished four of the nine pieces. They’ve all already sold. The shooting impacted me because the people were killed in a Bible study, and I know how people are in Bible study because I go each week. You become friends with the people there. I could empathize with what happened with them. What was amazing was the forgiveness and the redemption of the highest level that was expressed after the shooting. How do I capture the brutality of the event and the forgiveness that followed in nine paintings?  You see the brutality in Requiem for Mother Emmanuel #3 (pictured above). Dylan Roof targeted the oldest church because it’s the oldest African Methodist Episcopal church in the South, and he wanted to make an impact. After that shooting, for a few hours, we came together–not as black and white–as human beings. There was a kind of empathy and unity that came about from that tragedy that we have not seen in this state since the Civil War. But how long does it last? I suspect that it’s fading as we speak. Now that the tragedy is over, the status quo is hardening and legislators are making it even harder to get rid of the Confederate Flag. People sink back into their old ideologies. That’s why the series is so important for me. I want to capture this moment that people felt redemption from something as horrific as all that, one shining moment that people can treasure that’s dissipating as we speak. AR: What is the significance of the Confederate Flag in the South to African Americans? LT: The South is a place of contradictions. You’ve got to read between the lines. You have the hospitality and syrupy sweetness, and you have the racial tensions and the oppressive environment used to keep people in their places. Those are the kinds of contradictions I explore in my work. I believe that in the South there is a separateness that still exists. People move around each other during the day, but like Martin Luther King Jr. said, on Sunday, the South is the most segregated place in the world. What people don’t see is that there are niceties, but the camaraderie is surface level. There is a facade that’s here. The Confederate Flag is a facsimile. We’re nice to each other, but in the background there is always a shadow that is the flag and what it represents. Charleston is the place that the Civil War began. That’s one reason why Mother Emmanuel made a powerful statement. In one shining moment, people began to feel the pain of others and the flag came down. Twiggs does not yet know where the The Requiem for Mother Emmanuel series will be shown when it’s complete. However, like much of Twiggs’ work, the images are already predicted to become iconic portrayals that honor the transcendence of African Americans in response to one of the most significant hate crimes in recent history.

Textile artist Arianne King Comer helps young people thrive

The May issue of Charleston Magazine features batik artist Arianne King Comer, who works with Arts Access South Carolina (formerly VSA Arts), a South Carolina Arts Commission partner.

Textile artist Arianne King Comer shines a light on unrecognized creative talent, helping kids with disabilities thrive “Art is not what you see,” said French impressionist painter Edgar Degas, “but what you make others see.” Thanks to her work with nonprofit Arts Access South Carolina, formerly VSA (Very Special Arts): The State Organization on Arts and Disability—which identifies artistically gifted children with disabilities and provides them with teachers in a variety of creative disciplines—local Arianne King Comer is using batik art to not only open eyes, but hearts and minds as well. For some 20 years, the esteemed textile artist has shared her skills with kids. In 2007, she began to teach batik in high school classes that include young people facing physical, mental, and emotional challenges. This year, King Comer has spent 90 minutes of each school day at Stall High, guiding 20 students through the process of batik, in which wax, natural dyes, and stamping tools are used to create designs on cloth. But her supply kit contains a tool less visible yet equally as penetrating as the deep indigo that is a trademark of her work. It is empathy, driven by her own experience as a child who could not read until the age of 10 in a time when dyslexia was not diagnosed. Her parents gave her crayons and paper, and she learned that “keeping your hands busy creatively gives you a chance to work out your problems without getting deflated.” Michael Johnson was more than deflated before King Comer came to West Ashley High in 2008. “I could not control my anger, because I was bullied by people who didn’t know I have autism and ADHD. Letting out my emotions on fabric taught me how to not throw a hissy fit in class. It taught me how to focus,” says Johnson, who went on to apprentice with King Comer and show his work in several local exhibits. The transformative effect of King Comer’s instruction is “stunning,” says Holly Annibale, whose daughter, Michelle, has Down Syndrome, bipolar disorder, and autistic spectrum disorder behaviors. Michelle exhibited behavioral issues at West Ashley High, so Holly was shocked to see her daughter—who previously shoved aside those who came too close—giving King Comer a hug, then sharing a pot of wax with fellow students, who had greeted her warmly. Now 22, Michelle creates beautiful scarves to sell through MHA Batik, a company her mom started on her behalf. Holly says batik was like magic, bringing out the brilliant hues hidden in her child. “There’s clearly something about Arianne that is unique,” she adds before offering a direct quote from Michelle: “That’s the best lady ever!” Foster the Arts: Due to funding cuts, Arts Access has had to drastically reduce the number of teachers they place in schools. To learn more about the nonprofit and donate, visit www.vsasc.org.  Via: Charleston Magazine

Statewide organization on arts and disabilities to create ornaments for National Christmas Tree display

VSA South Carolina and textile artist Arianne King Comer have been chosen to design and create ornaments for South Carolina’s tree for the 2012 National Christmas Tree display in President’s Park in Washington, D.C.  Artists and youth from each U.S. state, territory and the District of Columbia were selected by the National Park Foundation to create 24 ornaments for their trees. “It is an honor to be selected, and we look forward to collaborating with North Charleston students, seniors and veterans -- some with disabilities and some without --  to create these special ornaments,” said Julia Brown, executive director of VSA South Carolina. Comer, a master batik and teaching artist for VSA South Carolina, will lead a workshop to create the ornaments on Friday, Nov. 9, from 9 am to noon at the Felix C. Davis Community Center, located at 4800 Park Circle in North Charleston. Other textile artists assisting with the workshop include Peggie Hartwell, Cookie Washington and North Charleston’s current artist-in-residence, Kristy Bishop. Ornaments will be made using batik, quilting and other textile design processes. The workshop is presented as a component of the City of North Charleston’s Veterans Day celebrations and is open to students from Stall High School and Gregg Mathis Charter School, as well as local seniors and veterans. Those interested in participating should contact Julia Brown at (803) 603-4450 or jbrown@arts.sc.gov before the workshop date, as space is limited. The 90th National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony (date to be announced) is one of America’s oldest holiday traditions. It began on Christmas Eve in 1923, when President Calvin Coolidge lit a Christmas tree in front of 3,000 spectators on the Ellipse in President’s Park. Each succeeding President has carried on the tradition of what has become a month-long event presented by the National Park Foundation (the official charity of America's national parks) and the National Park Service. In addition to the tree display, President’s Park hosts a variety of family-oriented holiday attractions, such as Santa’s Workshop, holiday performances, a Yule log, a nativity scene and model train display. Formerly known as Very Special Arts, VSA South Carolina is a nonprofit organization incorporated in 1986 to provide quality accessible arts experiences throughout S.C. for children, youth and adults with disabilities. Founded in 1974 by Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith, VSA has an international network which includes 37 state affiliates and 51 international affiliates. VSASC is affiliated with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts under the VSA /Arts Accessibility Program. For ticket information, talent announcements and other event details, visit www.thenationaltree.org.