Art exhibit illustrates the role of religion in the struggle for survival among African Americans

HOUSTON – The renowned University Museum of the Texas Southern University just opened an exhibit of faculty members’ art on Nov. 21. The opening was just preceded by a timely visit from newly-appointed Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Houston-Galveston Archdiocese. The overriding theme of the current exhibit is religion and its role in the survival of the African American community in this country.

Faculty members, current and former, were featured with an outstanding collection of paintings, photos and ceramic sculptures. These works depicted African American working people in various walks of life. There was an emphasis on elders and their role in the community, but similarly, the joy of children and their role was readily apparent as well. These works left me with a feeling of hope for the future of mankind.

Most people recognize the importance of religion in providing relief to working people from the pain of oppression, exploitation, alienation, discrimination and the assaults on dignity inherent in the capitalist system. African Americans have been acutely aware of this pain and relief. Religion, especially in the African American community, has provided comfort to those suffering from the abuses of capitalism.

It should also be recognized that religion has served a very progressive role as well in labor struggles throughout history. The most obvious examples would be the role of the Rev. Martin Luther King’s efforts to support the labor movement and the intersection between civil rights and union rights.

W.E.B. Du Bois, in his book “The Souls of Black Folk,” quotes a traditional African American song, “I walk through the churchyard – to lay this body down; I know moon-rise, I know star-rise; I walk in the moonlight, I walk in the starlight; I’ll lie in the grave and stretch out my arms, I’ll go to judgment in the evening of the day, And my soul and thy soul shall meet that day, When I lay this body down.” Music, art and religion have provided the hope and comfort necessary for working people to endure horrendous injustices visited upon them.

The exhibit features works by Museum Curator Dr. Alvia Wardlaw documenting her personal experience and reaction to the Obama campaign and eventual triumph. Her mixed media presentations clearly illustrate hope and progress from the Obama victory. Her collages show that Obama’s success is a success for the working class as a whole.

The pictures feature quotes from the beautiful song “Lift Every Voice and Sing” also known as the “African American National Anthem” such as “Sing a song of hope that the present has brought us”, and “Let us march on till victory is won”, “We have come treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered”, “We have come over a way that with tears has been watered” and she concludes with a work dated Nov. 4 “Let our rejoicing rise high as the listening skies – Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.” Her works feature multiple images of Obama in various stages of his campaign and beautiful young African American youth supporting him presumably in their first electoral experience. Images of other outstanding African American leaders such as Marcus Garvey, Nelson Mandela, Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali were also featured in the collection.