June 20, 2022


         I wasn’t able to find any block prints directly related to Juneteenth, so I’m celebrating instead with a couple of African-American printmakers whose work celebrates their identity and experience.  I’ve started with a piece by Elizabeth Catlett (USA/Mexico, 1915-2012).  I’ve featured her before, so you can revisit a couple of pieces here and here.  She’s done a lot of very moving work exploring the experiences of Black Americans during slavery and through the twentieth century.  Today, however, I’ve picked a piece that is more celebratory.  The silhouetted people don’t have obviously happy expressions, but their bright colors and the title of the piece “Magic People,” make me feel that it’s about resilience and survival and working together to stand up together.
        Next a beautiful piece by Deborah Grayson, an artist I know very little about.  In her statement she talks about exploring silence and what it reveals and protects about the inner lives of Black women.  I love the expression on this face, with the closed eyes looking inward and the hint of a smile at what she sees there.  As a white woman I can’t speak for what the experience of Juneteenth means for Black people in this country, but it seems to me that while it is a celebration of the end of slavery, it’s also an acknowledgement of the disgraceful injustices that were supposed to have ended much sooner (or, indeed, should never happened at all), and a reminder to keep envisioning a future that addresses and eliminates the injustices with which we’re still plagued.  Today’s first piece represents the celebration, and this second piece represents that dreaming of the future.
        The third piece is by Paul Peter Piech (USA/Wales, 1920-1996) who is not African-American, but whose piece seemed appropriate to represent that third element of Juneteenth: the acknowledgement of the wrongs that still need to be addressed.  (I’ve featured Piech before, so you can see more of his work here.)
        My own awareness of Juneteenth is relatively recent.  Do you have any stories or memories that make this holiday especially meaningful to you?

[Pictures: Magic People, linoleum cut by Elizabeth Catlett, 2002 (Image from Cleveland Museum of Art);

Innervisions 2 (Unfurling), relief block print by Deborah Grayson (Image from GraysonStudios.com);

Liberty, linoleum block print by Peter Paul Piech, 1971 (Image from V&A).]

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