Bessie Smith Cultural Center of Chattanooga

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Crossings a new exhibition by James McKissic

January 12th, 2013 by bsccadmin

“Crossings” a new exhibition by artist James McKissic will be on display at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center in the Museum gallery through March 2, 2013.

Artist Statement: My work is born of a desire to use color, texture and shape in a way that invites the viewer into the painting. If you don’t want to physically touch my paintings, I feel like I haven’t been successful. My work allows me to explore on an organic, primal level my relationship to the environment and to others as an African American, Southern man.

I create non-objective paintings in mixed media that evoke my rural, agricultural, African American ancestry and often celebrate personal exploration. My sources of inspiration are varied, from a Santeria priest’s front door photographed in Havana, Cuba to the topography of my family’s farm in Meigs County, Tennessee.

Paintings just come to me in the form of images or ideas that I can’t get out of my head. It’s almost like a spirit possesses me — or like Robert Johnson sang, “a hellhound’s on my trail.” I just have to shake it off and release it. African American folk culture, folk religions, and the South hugely influence me.

Sneak peak of “Negro Spirituals” – A Solo exhibition by Aaron Henderson

December 7th, 2012 by bsccadmin

Negro Spiritual Narrative:

I have always known the spirits and they know me.

The first generation of enslaved Africans brought to America had to fight to hold on to their sense of God. After enduring the horrors of that portion of the Maafa (Kiswahilli term for “disaster”) known as the transatlantic slave trade, the first generation struggled to hold on to life itself, while in the machinery of the Euro/American slavery system. All traces of identity, family, culture, language, and religion were stripped from them as if by a slow fire. Their dignity was obscured as they were sold on the auction blocks, forced to labor in horrible conditions and adapt to alien ways and an alien language. When they cried to God in prayer and song, the new words rang with echoes of the spirits of their forbears. All was not lost. In the music of their voices rang through a miracle: hope, strength and an ancient nobility of the eternal soul.

Their faith in the spirit and in spirits that they knew through prayers and songs would carry them through this horrific episode of human existence. This faith became a light of hope that shined for generations to come.

How was this possible? Could a people who endured such tragedy actually convert that tragedy to a crucible of faith and hope? How did they find solace in a corrupted form of Christianity while enduring a horrendous system of oppression? The religion itself was so perverted by mankind that it supported the slave trade and the subsequent American Apartheid. Their souls cried out for the God of their mothers and their mother’s mothers. And when they cried out what a beautiful music it became. These songs were not the sound of suffering, but uplifting music that transcended the horrors of the everyday world that they knew. Heavenly flowers of song grew from the depths of sorrow.

What were the songs they sung that guided them through the time that James Weldon Johnson referred to as “days when hope unborn had died”? What images of the future did their minds conjure that allowed them to see beyond the torture and terrorism that was forced upon them? Did they know they were creating a tradition that would, through music, sustain their descendants for generations? Could they, in the midst of their sorrow and struggle, know that the redemptive value in unearned suffering serve to create a new beauty?

The spirit within them allowed these first, and then subsequent generations of African-Americans to draw sustenance from the songs they sang. These songs often included hidden messages of liberation within salvation. Many of these songs were adopted from biblical stories told by the oppressor to maintain control. However, once they were in the hearts and minds of the oppressed, new, deeper meanings emerged offering freedom from within. They are liberating and revolutionary songs. They are songs of joy in the face of adversity.

Are these songs often to referred to as the “Negro Spiritual Tradition” slipping away from our collective memory? Will the messages in the lyrics help us move forward as our ancestor hoped and prayed that they would? Is there some spiritual truth still hidden in these songs that can project us beyond the boundaries that keep us from fulfilling the dreams of our ancestors?

Perhaps through visual representations we can revive our collective memory and share our strength. We must never forget the lessons of history. We cannot ignore the spiritual voices of our forebears and of the God that dwells within us all.

I will attempt through visual interpretations of the lyrics of these songs to capture the essence of a spirit-filled people surrounded by oppression and stripped of their Africaness yet able to find joy and hope. The spirit has always been with us. It is still here today.

About the artist:

Visual Artist Aaron F. Henderson produces a remarkable body of art, which brings to life the brilliantly vibrant colors that are so much a part of African and African American culture. His ambition is to capture the powerful, spiritual and expressive feelings of his themes and to transfer them into passionate images for his viewers. Aaron has been painting for more than 40 years and has dedicated much of his life to studying and creating art

He is a narrative artist and when viewing his work, one often sees classic “life stories” unfolding in the faces and the movements of his subjects. His goal is to show his audiences a compelling interpretation of his narratives. This is accomplished through Aaron’s exquisite use of color to create works of art, which convey emotions, harmony and rhythm. Aaron is fully aware that he has been blessed by God with an extraordinary talent. His objective is to obtain knowledge, and use his God-given talent to reflect all of his experiences, dreams and visions through his work. Most recently his work has been featured on HGTV’s ‘Ground Breakers’ and acquired by the permanent collection of the Franklin G. Burroughs – Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He earned a B.S.E.E. (Electrical Engineering) degree from Tuskegee University in 1971.

The Negro Spirituals exhibition will run  March 11, 2013 -  May 4, 2013    in our museum gallery.

Featured artwork:

“Get Away Jordan” by Aaron F. Henderson

Friends of African American Art

April 21st, 2011 by bsccadmin

About Friends of African American Art:

Friends of African American Art is an interest group formed by the Bessie Smith Cultural Center and the Hunter Museum of American Art for art lovers who are interested in preserving and showcasing African American art.

Members of Friends of African American Art are dedicated to fostering a rich cultural environment for individuals of all backgrounds through education about and promotion of all facets of African American art. FAAA will purchase works of African American art for the Bessie Smith Cultural Center and Hunter Museum of American Art. The group’s goal is to acquire its first work of art in February 2012. Membership fees go towards a fund to acquire work for Bessie Smith Cultural Center or the Hunter Museum of American Art.

Members enjoy a wide range of educational and social activities, including lectures, exhibition previews, collecting workshops, and meetings with artists and other professionals in the arts.

For more information on how to join contact the membership department at the Hunter Museum of American Art at (423) 267-0968.

“The Bessie” Event Photos!

February 15th, 2011 by bsccadmin

An Intimate Evening with Avery*Sunshine

Museum Hours

Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Saturday, Noon to 4 p.m.
Sunday, Closed

Admission Information