Charleston creek - Courtesy of Explore Charleston
Whenever I drive south from Charleston on Highway 17 or some of the surrounding back roads across Harriet Tubman Bridge or the Ace Basin, I encounter plantations that were created by my Gullah African ancestors that were captured in Africa and ultimately brought to our shores enslaved to build the empire of Carolina Gold Rice. I often recognize the name of a given plantation and recall an elder from my own community telling me that my family came from this or that plantation and I am filled with a sense of pride. This pride is based on my knowledge of what it took to build, maintain, and work in the swampy mosquito-filled rice fields with diseases such as malaria, amoebiasis, cholera, and yellow fever. The phenomenal ability of my ancestors from Africa and subsequently their African-American decedents to survive these conditions and create a rich and vibrant Gullah culture unique to America is most humbling.
Every time I approach the canvas to express my respect for my heritage and culture I strive to capture the magnificent legacy my ancestors left me and my family despite their enslavement, oppression, and horrific challenges they faced on a daily basis even after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. I marvel how under such conditions they were able to share such incredible love with one another, maintain a sense of community, create an atmosphere of belonging, and instill in their children a sense of purpose and meaning in life. It is for these reasons I choose to paint my heritage not with angst but to celebrate the traditions, customs, and mores that convey a sense of space, privacy, dignity, purpose, family, love, and community. Some of the paintings in this calendar reflect my attempt to capture the life of my people still living and working in rural South Carolina in their gardens, homes, fields, and communities. Images in some of the paintings portray the history of family sustenance rice as a reminder of my bridge to Africa and my ancestors.