IV

Narratives of African American Art and Identity

David C. Driskell

Behold Thy Son, 1956

Oil on canvas

40" x 30"


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Behold Thy Son

As the Civil Rights movement gained momentum in America, David Driskell and many of his colleagues began to use their art to address serious concerns about racial injustice. Driskell became interested in the art of social commentary while studying with Jack Levine at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine during the summer of 1953. The 1955 murder in Mississippi of Emmett Till, the black youth who was lynched after having been accused of whistling at a white woman, outraged Driskell and inspired Behold Thy Son, one of his earliest attempts to address racial prejudice in his work.

Driskell's poignant image portrays Till's mother presenting her son in death to the church. The outstretched arms and bruised body of the young man recall the crucifixion of Christ and signify the sacrifice of many young lives for freedom. The extreme foregrounding of the figures demonstrates the artist's interest in the mono-dimensional spirituality of Byzantine art while his expressionistic style and coloration add warmth and emotion to the drama being represented.   A. L. C.

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