In this rich and personal work, painter Christopher Williams (also known as The Black DaVinci) reflects on Black Joy and his relationship with his own father in response to Exodus 20:20.
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20 And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not.
My art practice focuses on Black Joy: a spiritual feeling that has uplifted the African Diaspora through countless trials and tribulations in the quest for freedom and equity.
It defies a simplistic explanation. Black Joy is like a heartbeat. Never bitter, it is sweeter than the blackest of cherries or the richest of chocolates. It is a steady climb or an out of frame kiss. It is a moment that is magical, that expands what it means to be Black and does not limit Black people to being solely objects of judgement and discrimination. My joy, my Black Joy may not be the same as the next. For me, it is a vehicle for connection, educating others and sharing my experience as a Black man. I am able to develop authentic empathy for my subject matter, laying their soul bare in my art making. At once, the viewer connects not only with my subject matter, but also me.
Black Joy in my art making is not straight forward. It is, at times, elusive and difficult to grasp. My paintings transport the viewer through different realms of emotions, expanding from realism to partial realism laced with abstraction, often conveying the notion of being out of time and place with an expressionistic element that can be viscerally felt.
My figures tend to gaze back at the viewer, at times emboldened, at times cautious because my Black joy emerges directly from the historical context of struggle and oppression, yet always striving to be respected and fully seen. I have found this process is like walking to the edge of darkness and then calling upon faith to take one more step to embrace all of joy’s manifestations.
Of note specifically about this piece is that the Bible that is on the left-hand side was my father's huge king James version from 1984. My dad wrote and highlighted and taped Post-it notes all throughout many chapters—cross referencing other Bible verses. He also used to quiz me all the time about Scripture. Those were good memories. I was on a Bible quizzing team that placed 7th nationally. My dad was very proud because as I grew older, every Bible quiz and team I was on placed first or high enough to compete in national tournaments. I used to be able to quote a lot of chapters in the Bible by memory (my favorite Bible verse being Hebrews 4:12).
So, the verse Exodus 20:20 means so much to me!
Christopher Williams’ art practice focuses on Black Joy — a spiritual feeling that has uplifted the African Diaspora through countless trials and tribulations in the quest for freedom and equality. It defies a simplistic explanation. He explains its experience:
Black Joy is like a heartbeat. Never bitter, it is sweeter than the blackest of cherries or the richest of chocolates. It’s like a steady climb or an out-of-frame kiss. It is a moment that is magical and void of being Black, judged and discriminated against. My joy, my Black Joy may not be the same as the next.
It is my vehicle for connection, educating others and sharing my experience as a Black man. What makes the journey of my work unique is my ability to develop authentic empathy for my subject matter. I have found this process is like walking to the edge of darkness and then summoning the courage to take one more step to understand what lies beyond our differences. These steps are necessary to overcome bigotry, hatred and indifference, to embrace the pursuit of joy.