Requiem for Mother Emanuel


The South’s complex “racial past has long inspired powerful artistic statements from renowned South Carolina-based artist Leo Twiggs, yet the nine works created in the aftermath of the murders on the evening of June 17, 2015 at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston are perhaps the most compelling and poignant of his sixty-year career.”

“Within weeks of the tragedy, Leo Twiggs began painting as a cathartic means of coping not only with the horrors of the event, but also the awe he felt in the days after, as he watched South Carolinians unite in what he describes as ‘the state’s most humane moment.’ Over the next eleven months, one painting begat ideas for another; the emotions kept flowing, and he kept painting. These nine works honor the nine men and women who perished.

The symbolism in the batik paintings draws heavily from Twiggs’ signature use of targets and the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, commonly referred to as the Confederate battle flag. Targets and the flag begin as very prominent features, indicating the racially charged past that inspired such tragedy. Over the course of the nine works, however, the Confederate battle flag becomes less prominent, mimicking the intense focus on that flag’s presence atop the South Carolina State House and its subsequent removal. As the series progresses, the target crosses evolve into Christian crosses, representing the transfiguration of an act of horror into a public outpouring of countless acts of kindness.

Twiggs notes that this series has been the most challenging artistic undertaking of his career. He hopes these works will long serve as a reminder of the compassion and solidarity that South Carolinians exhibited for each other in the days after the murders, utopic moment when race may still have haunted us, but ceased to divide us.”

~Courtney Tollison Hartness, PhD
Furman University, Greenville, South Carolina

The nine paintings that comprise the Requiem for Mother Emanuel series were on view at TJC Gallery from August 4 through November 8, 2016. Private collectors from across the Southeast generously lent the first six works in the series to this showing, while the capstone three canvases are held by the Johnson Collection. The exhibition then traveled to the Mint Museum of Art in Charlotte, North Carolina, the I. P. Stanback Museum and Planetarium at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, the Jule Collins Smith Museum at Auburn University, and the South Carolina State Museum in Columbia.

On Tuesday, October 11, 2016, TJC hosted an educational exploration of paint, poetry, race, and grace, inspired by Requiem for Mother Emanuel. Featured presenters for the 7pm event included Dr. Twiggs, poet Nikky Finney, and Jane Panetta, associate curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. In May 2017, Dr. Twiggs was recognized with the Governor's Elizabeth O'Neill Verner Award for lifetime achievement as well as the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina's highest civilian honor.

First video credit: SailWind

Second video credit: Ridge Runner Media

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