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Art,” according to Leo Twiggs, “is the repository of human experience.” For over forty years, Dr. Twiggs’ experiences—as an African American man born in the segregated South, as the first black graduate of the University of Georgia’s art education doctoral program, as a father, teacher, and artist—have infused his paintings. His life story includes personal and aesthetic confrontations with symbols of hate, particularly the Confederate flag.

A native of St. Stephen, South Carolina, Leo Franklin Twiggs is a summa cum laude graduate of Claflin University (1956), where he now holds the position of Distinguished Artist in Residence. With no state-sponsored graduate program available to black South Carolinians at mid-century, Twiggs received his master’s degree from New York University (1964), where he studied under acclaimed artist Hale Woodruff. In 1970, Leo Twiggs became the first African American to earn a doctorate in art education from the University of Georgia.

In 1964, Twiggs returned to Orangeburg to take up a teaching position at South Carolina State University, where he started the art department and was instrumental in opening and running the I. P. Stanback Museum and Planetarium on campus. At this time, he began to experiment with the ancient process of batik: a traditional African method for decorating fabric using dye and wax. Twiggs uses batik as a way to create varying colors and textures that he could not get with conventional painting. Using the dye as paint (instead of the customary method of dipping the fabric in the dye), affords Twiggs a certain technical liberty which he likens to jazz in its embrace of "improvisation and contemplation, important elements in my creative efforts.” Many of Twiggs' paintings contain ominous iconography, including targets, railroad crossings, shadowy figures, and the Confederate flag. Twiggs approaches the controversial banner, presented as a tattered relic of the past, as representative of a dark chapter and vital lesson in Southern history. The exercise of reclaiming and defusing such malevolent icons,  Twiggs believes, can serve as a portal for “crossing over.”

The nine works Twiggs created in the aftermath of the murders that occurred on the evening of June 17, 2015 at Charleston's historic Mother Emanuel AME Church are perhaps the most compelling and poignant of his sixty-year career. The Requiem for Mother Emanuel series began as a cathartic means of coping not only with the horrors of the event, but also in answer to the awe he felt in the days that followed, as he watched South Carolinians unite in what he describes as "the state’s most humane moment."

Dr. Twiggs has had over seventy one-man shows and his work has received international recognition, with exhibitions held at the Studio Museum in Harlem, the American Crafts Museum, and in US Embassies in Rome, Dakar, and Togoland, among others. His work has been widely published in art textbooks and featured in several television documentaries. The artist was recognized with the Elizabeth O'Neill Verner Governor's Award for the Arts for lifetime achievement, as well as the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina's highest civilian honor, in 2017. In the autumn of 2018, Twiggs received the Gibbes Museum’s prestigious 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art, in recognition for his work’s contribution to “a new understanding of the American South.” In 2019, Dr. Twiggs was presented with the Georgia Museum of Art’s Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson Award, which honors living African American artists with a connection to that state.

Dr. Twiggs is the curator of TJC's newest exhibition, Elevation from Within: The Study of Art at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which pays homage to HBCU alumni and professors whose educational backgrounds chronicle a vital chapter of American history and whose aesthetic achievements have made an indelible mark on this nation’s art.