Dancers, poets, faculty, students and community members will gather in the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History on Tuesday to celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. through the center’s annual event, "He Was a Poem, He Was a Song."
The evening will begin with the debut of the Stone Center’s spring art exhibit, “Black River: Chronicle of a Spiritual Journey,” by artist Charles E. Williams. Joseph Jordan, the director of the Stone Center, said the Center was particularly drawn to Williams because of the exhibit’s focus on the “spiritual understandings of what it means to be a person of color in the diaspora.”
Williams, who is based in Greensboro, said he drew inspiration for the exhibit from his relationship with his father. Prior to creating “Black River,” Williams worked on another exhibit called, “Swim: An Artist's Journey,” which he said drove him to further explore his connection to water, specifically through a spiritual lens.
“When you think about water and the spiritual connotation of it, it means baptism, baptize, rebirth,” Williams said.
Growing up, Williams said he experienced abuse from his father, who he felt at the time was dealing with the “patriarchal male paradigm.” The concept of forgiveness is a central theme of “Black River,” said Williams.
His father eventually became a born-again Christian, something Williams cites as instrumental in their relationship and in developing the art exhibit. His father’s spiritual transformation involved eventually becoming a chaplain at a detention center near his family’s house in South Carolina in an area, which, “ironically,” Williams said, “is called Black River.”
Williams describes “Black River” as a “multimedia exhibition,” involving paintings, photographs and a video he produced.
“It's a very intimate exploration of my process for learning about family dynamics and also the parallels within the Western Christian culture, as well as my own personal struggle, which is to forgive and let go,” Williams said.
Williams said his childhood frequently involved his father teaching him “lessons,” about everything from hand-washing dishes to taking care of tools. Williams related these lessons to stories and parables from the Bible, which played a large role in the development of “Black River.”