Bearing Artistic Witness to
A National Tragedy

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 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.”
Lift Every Voice

“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 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.’ 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 iconography evolves into Christian crosses, representing the transfiguration of an act of prejudice 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 that moment—a moment when race may still have haunted us, but ceased to divide us.”


Each of the nine individual pieces offers a moving commentary on the nature of man—addressing issues of race and violence, tragedy and redemption. It is, however, in the series’ entirety that the emotional spectrum captured on the canvases finds it fullest expression, leading viewers on a visual pilgrimage through the massacre and its consequences. (Select the image to the left to see a slide gallery of the series.) An award-winning companion video, produced by Hampton III Gallery and SailWind Pictures, features Dr. Twiggs discussing the series' genesis and goals.

Requiem for Mother Emanuel was 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—numbers 7, 8, and 9—are held by TJC. Interest in the presentation grew exponentially after the Carolina Panthers' captains and coaches visited the gallery. Subsequent media coverage, including a feature segment on ESPN's Monday Night Football and a later interview broadcast on CBS Evening News, extended Dr. Twiggs' message to a national audience.

Following its tenure in Spartanburg, Requiem for Mother Emanuel 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.


Paint, Poetry, Race & Grace

On Tuesday, October 11, 2016, TJC hosted an educational symposium that investigated and illuminated Leo Twiggs' artistic response to the shootings at Mother Emanuel AME Church. The evening's featured presenters included Dr. Twiggs, poet and National Book Award winner Nikky Finney, and Jane Panetta, associate curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. The presentation can be viewed in its entirety here.

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.