An elegy to America in black and white

Artist’s talk will address racism and prophecy in America

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Bishop Madai Taylor poses for a photo in his exhibition, “An Elegy to America in Black and White,” on display now at the Blanden Memorial Art Museum. Taylor will hold a reception and give a talk on the work Saturday.

Perhaps more than anything else, the pieces on first glance convey darkness.

Madai Taylor has a history of working with earth as a medium, and these creations of earth on canvas tend to impress with their uniqueness. But the artwork currently on display at the Blanden Memorial Art Museum is different from previous works, lacking the reddish hues of rust that are sometimes featured.

These, instead, feature deep black Iowa dirt.

The pieces are struck through with red, in places, or shocks of white. Numerous pieces of a noose hang on some, along with handcuffs, guns, bullets.

“This is darker. It has darker subject matter,” Taylor said. “My aim in this is to deal with the plight and the perils of black America from a prophetic point of view, drawing from American history.”

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Madai Taylor explains one of his pieces currently on display. With “Oh My God,” and “XIII Amendment” visible, the piece is covered in nooses, handcuffs, symbols of violence…and dozens of crosses; Taylor said it speaks to a historical point of view, what black Americans have suffred.

Many of the pieces are accompanied by Bible verses, which visitors can look up. All are based around prophecies found in the 28th chapter of Deuteronomy, but presented in a way that’s far from usual in American Christianity, Taylor said.

“After looking at all the killings of black men in the last five or six years, I was compelled to do this show,” he said. “Because of the senseless violence against young black men.”

The show is certainly controversial, he said, but Taylor doesn’t see it as primarily a political statement.

“I see this as a spiritual problem, not a race problem,” he said. “Any Christian should see this is deeper than race — this is a spiritual issue. Because anyone that’s a Christian or promotes the love of God has to recognize regardless of race, inhumane treatment of any soul is not showing forth the love that Christ promoted.”

The Biblical passages speak to modern-day occurrences, Taylor said.

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
A piece with words from the Sermon on the Mount, overlayed with the darkness of the history of lynching, hangs in the Blanden’s east gallery in an exhibition by Bishop Madai Taylor. Next to it is a piece dedicated to abolitionists.

“I believe we are the Hebrews of the Bible, or the Jews of the Bible. I say that because there are several identifying characteristics that point to the Jews of the Bible, and black America fits all of them,” he said.

The key verse, Taylor said, speaks of the Hebrews being taken back into bondage in ships, just as black Americans were brought to the country in bondage in ships.

“You’re going to be sold into slavery. You will get married, but he will sleep with your wife,” he said, paraphrasing Deuteronomy. “You’ll build houses, but you can’t stay in them. You’ll plant vineyards, or gardens, but you won’t be able to prosper from them. You will see your children sold into bondage, but you will have no power to do anything about it.”

The pieces draw on historic figures, and moments in American history. One is dedicated to John Brown, the radical abolitionist who led a short-lived slave rebellion and was hanged for treason.

“He was a Christian brother who understood slavery was an inhumane, ungodly thing,” Taylor said. “That is honoring him, and all the abolitionists.”

Other Christians don’t escape criticism in Taylor’s pieces, as more than one shows nooses along with crosses, to depict the way Christians approved of lynching in America, the artist said.

“This piece, ‘The Church Says Amen,’ it was Christians that stood behind lynching. They didn’t see anything wrong with lynching black men,” he said. “History shows us that. If people don’t read history, if they don’t do any kind of study, you can tell people anything.”

Taylor will give a talk on his work Saturday at the Blanden, and hopes people will come with questions.

“Anyone interested is certainly invited to come out, and come out with questions, and believe nothing I say,” Taylor said. “Do the research for yourself.

“This show is really speaking to the truth, and in fact the truth doesn’t necessarily come to make you happy. Sometimes the truth comes to make you cry, so that you can be happy, and you can be free. Because what you know makes you free. It’s what you don’t know, or what we don’t know, that keeps us bound.”


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