Visual Exegesis

Event time: 
Wednesday, April 2, 2008 - 5:00am
Event description: 

David C. Driskell, "African Saint," 2005 Linocut A/P 2/15 Artist's Studio. © David C. Driskell



Steele Collection Brings Religious Images by African American Artists to the ISM

Institute of Sacred Music, 409 Prospect Street, New Haven

Reception Friday April 4 / 6 PM / ISM Great Hall





David C. Driskell, "Dancing Angel", 2002, Silkscreen and collage, A/P, Stovall's Workshop, Inc., Washington, DC.  © David C. Driskell


The Institute of Sacred Music is honored to collaborate with the David C. Driskell Center at the University of Maryland, College Park, and the organizers of Yale University’s conference Middle Passage Conversations on Black Religion in the African Diaspora* to present Visual Exegesis: Religious Images by African American Artists from the Jean and Robert E. Steele Art Collection.  The exhibition will be on display April 2 – 25 at the Institute; it is open weekdays from 9 – 4. The conference is hosting a reception on Friday, April 4 at 6 PM at the Institute.  Both the exhibition and the reception are free and open to the public.

Visual Exegesis, the evocative title selected by the curatorial team, Dorit Yaron and Jean and Robert Steele, signals the exhibition’s core idea: artistic interpretation and elaboration of biblical text, religious tradition, and ritual practice to represent the everyday and the truly extraordinary in human experience and identity.  Powerfully, persuasively, with gentle wit and acerbic bite, with vision and prophetic voice, the artworks and artists assembled here concentrate attention on the specific events, the sacramental practices, the biblical teachings, the hallowed bodies, the celebrations and sorrows, the politics and poetics, the grief and gratitude, that they communicate and portray.  

Among the close to forty works on display, Jacob Lawrence’s visual sermon, And God Created the Day and the Night and Put Stars in the Sky(1990), reiterates divine creation and invites congregants (and now exhibition viewers) to imagine, to witness, and to participate.  Annette Fortt’s Grandmother of the Bride (1992) radiates familial history, ancestral presence, and personal strength from her seat in the pew.  John Biggers’Family Ark (1992) and Michael Harris’ Mother and the Presence of Myth(1997) magnify this theme of generational ritual connection across time and space.  Margo Humphrey’s smorgasbord of color and symbol in The Last Barbeque (1989) sharply, brilliantly, channels Leonardo’s iconic Last Supperthrough American racial politics.  Works by David Driskell, Faith Ringgold and Grace Matthews, Jefferson Pinder, Valerie Maynard, and Allan Crite offer a symphony of angels, a diverse array of divine messengers to variously challenge and provoke, to comfort and provide, to accuse and to unsettle expectations. 


We are gratefully indebted to Robert and Jean Steele for their insight and imagination in shaping this magnificent collection and sharing this rich and important resource; to Dorit Yaron for her curatorial creativity; and to David C. Driskell, artist and scholar, eminent authority on African American art, whose vision informs the David C. Driskell Center for the Study of the Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora at the University of Maryland (  At Yale University, we owe sincere thanks to Emilie Townes, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of African American Religion and Theology; and, importantly, to the Edward J. and Dorothy Clarke Kempf Fund for generous support.


*The conference Middle Passage Conversations on Black Religion in the African Diaspora is presented by Yale Divinity School; Yale Institute of Sacred Music; Edward J. and Dorothy Clarke Kempf Fund; African American Studies Department; Religious Studies Department; Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program; Whitney Humanities Center; Saint Thomas More Center; Expanding Horizons Program; The Fund for Theological Education; New England-Maritimes Region of the American Academy of Religion; and the Initiative on Religion and Politics at Yale.