Twiggs receives honor from Georgia Museum of Art

Prolific #SCartist adds to his accomplishments with Thompson Award

Image of Leo Twiggs with award namesake Larry Thompson

Dr. Leo Twiggs, left, recipient of the Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson Award, and Larry Thompson.

On Feb. 22, the Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia held its annual Black History Month Dinner and Awards Celebration in Athens, Ga. Leo Twiggs received the Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson Award for his efforts as an artist.

This award is given annually to honor an African American artist who has made significant but often lesser-known contributions to the visual arts tradition in Georgia. It is named for the couple who donated 100 works by African American artists from their collection to the museum and endowed a curatorial position there (held by Shawnya L. Harris) to focus on art by African American and African diasporic artists.

Twiggs studied art at Claflin College, the Art Institute of Chicago and New York University. In 1970, he became the first African American student to receive a doctorate of arts in art education from the University of Georgia. Twiggs went on to create the first fine arts degree program at South Carolina State University. In many of his works, he uses the wax-resist process of dyeing textiles called batik. His use of the Confederate flag serves as an evocative symbol of systemic racism in the South, and he continues to address social issues in his art, as with a recent series focusing on the murders at Mother Emanuel Church, in Charleston. A prolific artist, he has had work featured in 75 solo shows, one of which was held at the museum in 2004.

Twiggs received the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Award for the Arts in the individual category from the S.C. Arts Commission in 1980 and was a recipient for lifetime achievement in 2017.

Accepting the Thompson Award, Twiggs spoke about the event as a homecoming of sorts for him.

“When I came here [to the University of Georgia] at the height of the civil rights movement, Lamar Dodd, chair of the art department, told me, ‘We don’t think of you as a student. We think of you as a colleague.’ Art is a journey, but ours is a unique journey because: ‘We have come over a way that with tears has been watered. We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,” he continued, quoting “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” known as the “Negro national anthem.”

“James Baldwin said that ‘the purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been hidden by the answers.’ To that end, I have never looked away,” Twiggs said.