STEMMING BLACK AND FORTH: A CHANGE IS GONNA COME FROM AFRICA TO THE WHITE HOUSE can be described as a photo-based, collage-relief painting. After a year of research and planning, the artwork is the brainchild and creation of multi-media visual artist, Tanya Murphy Dodd, and private collector, William Robinson. The imagery embarks on a formidable visual journey to tell a story of an African American historical journey. Many historical passages were not included within the final artwork but they were definitely acknowledged in planning and valued as experiences by Africans in the Diaspora. They were not presented within this particular, humble, creative, inspiration for the sake of artistic freedom and composition.
The artwork exists within two connected panels of wood measuring eighty inches long and twenty-four inches high. Both the left and right panels are joined together to present one continuous timeline. The story begins in the upper left corner with the queens of Egypt, and several camel-backed noblemen riding across a desert. The collage carvings move us back and forth, up and down toward a progression of everyday African villagers, and warriors. Viewers are also directed side-to-side in the historical timeline. Three central African men are shown chained, and captured. They stand waiting in front of the 'Doorway of No Return'. Their presence is intended to symbolize a nation of individuals who are taken away and displaced from the mother continent across the Middle Passage. Slave cargo ships, like the Amistad, are prominently presented traveling back and forth across routes of foreign waters and shores. I imagined a vision of countless Africans who were ripped apart from their roots, thrown overboard, starved in transition or surviving only to become woven into a fiber of abrupt and punishing inhumane humiliation and torture during an international slave culture. Central in the artwork, at the joining of both panels, is America’s embrace of the slave culture. Featured here, are a storefront slave block, and human sale promotional literature. The American story continues across the 1860’s timeline with a subtle-under-stated, layer of text taken from the Emancipation Proclamation.
Slave descendants: Sojourner Truth, Harriett Tubman, and Frederick Douglas along with several Black Union soldiers surface above and around the proclamation text along with a formidable President Abraham Lincoln. A plantation landscape emerges below; a courageous run-away Slave, and Underground Railroad Conductor, Harriett Tubman, is portrayed in a featured relief carving. She is bravely carrying gun artillery in her arms, and forging forward escorting another individual to unknown freedoms.
Contemporary 20th century male heroes such as W.E.B. Dubois, Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey all appear after the trailblazing Ms. Tubman. The right side of the artwork embarks upon several major events leading up to 2009. Dr. Marin Luther King Jr. and Civil Rights Movement, exploring 1954-65, were essential. I touch upon Jim Crow atrocities: lynching, church burnings, school segregation, and America’s continued struggle to grow in peace, freedom and to accept activism for freedom and justice of all sorts. I felt it obviously important to include familiar figures such as Rosa Parks, M.L.K., Malcolm X, and Muhammad Ali, but just as important, for me, was the inclusion of lesser-known African American activist like Paul Robeson. I find his quotes, and active outreach toward personal freedoms particularly irresistible. I included a portion of a speech by Paul Robeson in the artwork just left facing the White House.
Black and Forth: A Change is Gonna Come……. portrays an obvious interplay of black political figures within American history. One legend piggybacks another in a side-to-side progression. The White House in particular is framed at both sides with figures Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powel who seem to hold up the steadfast structure. I however, chose to portray the 2009 political leader, Barack Obama as encroaching across the guidelines and timelines of former Whitehouse African American political leaders. He is engaging the artwork across several timelines from approximately 1968 until 2009. He leans over and touches outreaching hands at the Capital building and approaches Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress (1968) and the first black woman to run for president of the United States (1972). Barack Obama is presented un-systematically within the artwork, in a wide range of side-to-side movement. He is a symbol of change in direction to the viewer. He specifically walks into the painting from seemingly nowhere and is a reflection of a widening system in America.
Overall, the artwork seeks to express an important interplay between all historical eras, from background to foreground and from to side-to-side. The vast timelines shown span from Egyptian royalty, to Africa’s civil unrest, foreign exchange, the Middle Passage encompassing intercontinental slavery and finally America’s ever present growing pains. The artwork exploits a hurtful, young America but it also highlights an American healing process. The character of African strength, leadership and prowess surely rises up again in this story, which was important. African American heroes and heroines are honored with respect to challenging the ideology of a Civil War President, to launching a Civil Rights Movement, to forging generations of political evolution across a changing world. There are always events that we want to forget but cannot, and others we elate in for changing America and the world for the better. "Hope for the future", is America’s latest claim, it may only be for a season. Certainly, America’s election of its first African American President will keep collective memories and stories of all kinds moving Black and Forth.
----------- Tanya Murphy Dodd, 2010