V

Narratives of African American Art and Identity

Michael D. Harris

Mothers and the Presence of Myth, 1997

Lithograph

30" x 21.25"


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Mothers and the Presence of Myth

Art historian, artist, and AfriCobra member Michael D. Harris's conviction that art, at its best, is an "articulation of spiritual ideas or transformative intention" is reflected in his lithograph Mothers and the Presence of Myth. Harris combines elements of Yoruba religious aesthetics and symbols with the personal image of his mother to create a work that for him serves as an agent of personal and social transformation.

Mothers and the Presence of Myth was created at the Brandywine Workshop, Philadelphia, as part of a suite of works developed by the members of AfriCobra (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists) between 1993 and 1995. Harris states that he designed this work, with its polychromatic areas of tonalities traditionally utilized by Yoruba women shrine painters, as a testament to the spiritual powers and positive attributes of black women. Harris's interest in female spirituality and transformation is further implied through his incorporation of such Yoruba religious symbols as the bird, which refers to the idea of motherhood; the snake, a symbol that African art historian Robert Farris Thompson believes represents the spiritual command ashe (defined by him as "God's own enabling light rendered accessible to men and women"); and the hand, a symbol that refers to the ability of an individual to create himself or herself with his or her own hand. Harris's inclusion of a photograph of his mother as a young girl serves as a symbolic bridge linking the past of African ancestors and his mother's individual history to the future, embodied in the life of her son and his children.  T. F.

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