By Sarah Wibell
Atlanta-based artist Charmaine Minniefield, whose work is garnering national and international attention, gave a gallery talk at the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center on Sunday, May 5. Her work, currently on display at MMCC as part of the Connexus exhibit, draws upon a spiritual connection with ancestors, emancipation, and feminism. In particular, the pieces that are part of Minniefield’s Black Angel collection reference, reflect, and are inspired by Ring Shout, which she explained during her talk.
“I actually travelled back to West Africa, to the region where (my) ancestors had come from, and I started studying African tradition,” stated Minniefield, who references ancestors and uses African patterns in much of her work. She began researching her own ancestors as well as other people’s, following their history that led to current generations experiencing freedom.
“I started researching all this history of reconstruction. The process of reconstruction today forms who we are as a society. As a country, we have achieved freedom. What if we revisit that? What does that look like? As a country, we have torn ourselves apart, and now we’re rebuilding, which is reconstruction. What if we revisit that? What does that look like, if some of us feel torn apart today, if we can collect parts of these hopeful ideas as a society? So, I started painting everything to do with emancipation, everything to do with freedom, and thinking of my ancestors in that world, and that led me to also research our faith practices during that time.
“Our faith practices were sort of in keeping with this optimistic, hopeful, but dangerous idea of resistance. We were seeking secret spaces to have freedom to pray with traditions that we remembered. In some cases, finding common language, rhythm, sound, within a confined space, we created a community even against the odds of community, because they (white oppressors) took our language, they wouldn’t allow us to beat drums. We were enslaved. We were oppressed. But, in spite of all of that, in secret spaces, we would gather to pray. So, I started honing in on everything to do with the act of resistance – Ring Shout.
“Let me describe what the ring shout is. In small shacks they would build in spaces in the southeast, the (wooden) floors (were stomped on to create a beat); so the floors became our collective drum, and we beat our feet on the floor. We cured the wood of the floor over the years and stood in circle, community, when we worshiped, and the entire room of us would move in a prayer – a physical movement body, a prayer, the whole room was moving. That is African tradition – straight out of Africa. We were expressing our culture. We were remembering.
“Well that tradition leads to, now, what is ultimately the Pentecostal church. I grew up shouting, like getting touched by the spirit – dancing, dancing. We did that. That’s how I grew up. I never knew that shouting was a reference to the Ring Shout, which was a reference to African ritual. So, I found myself inside the Ring Shout. As I began expressing the work of Ring Shout, it has come out in a really interesting way for me. I think that it reclaims my space, my place inside the circle, inside the ring. I do belong, and everything that says otherwise is wrong.”
One of Minniefield’s projects will bring South Georgia shouters to perform Ring Shout in Atlanta as part of the Oakland Cemetery’s Juneteenth 2020 celebration and recognition of over 800 recently discovered African American unmarked graves.
Minniefield has also been involved in creating murals sharing black narratives throughout Atlanta in “communities affected by gentrification and erasure” in the New Freedom Project, according to her website. “Her recent public work includes projection mapping and site-specific installation. With a degree in Fine Art from Agnes Scott College, Charmaine Minniefield has also served the Atlanta area as an arts administrator for nearly 20 years, holding positions with such arts organizations as the National Black Arts Festival, the High Museum of Art and the Fulton County Department of Art and Culture, producing projects around art and activism with such organizations as Alternate ROOTS, Points of Light and Flux Projects. She recently served as faculty for the Department of Art and Visual Culture at Spelman College and currently serves as faculty for Freedom University, an underground university for undocumented students.”
The Connexus exhibit showcasing Minniefield’s work has been extended until July 15, 2019.