The Faith of an Artist

Pray for America

David Hammons, 1969

A hopeful form responding to desperate times. 

Cloaked with the American flag, David Hammons positions himself in silent prayer.  Eyes closed with hands pressed together, Hammons offers his condolences to the lives lost in the trying preservation of America.  

Dr. Martin Luther King.

Robert F. Kennedy.

Figures of a movement, the leaders of their times, their end halted all.  What more can be attained, can be achieved, can be hoped for, in such dark times? 

Pray for America

A title and a statement. This is what Hammons offers.


In  a time of social turmoil  this painting stands in solidarity with the remaining America. Embraced with the stripes, the stars, red, white and blue, this confide represents his conviction.  Although America appears at a loss, in time  it will get better.


The subject utilizing his medium, is this a forced rendering of the black artist?

The 1960's was most historically categorized by the Civil Rights Movement, a time emphasized on race relations. Racial tensions stood high for African Americans, even more so in 1969 with the assassination of their main activist Dr. Martin Luther King.   Retaliations were high, protests turned deadly and the strength of humanity was tested. At the peak of such social tensions, Hammons resided with those still fighting  for the cause.  

Museum of Modern Art attributes his black identity to be his source of artistic creation.  The captioned description narrates Hammons who assumes it to be his "moral obligation as a black artist to try to graphically document what I feel socially.”   

Self defining as a black artist, Hammons chooses to have his social obligation take priority over his contribution as artist.  Before he was an artist he was American, and in all aspects he resided as black in identity.  Like the proliferations of  Edward  J. Atkinson, morality is meant to justify his decisions as a creator.  Coinciding to their reference to society in their art, their creations are not simply inspired by impulse, but is indefinitely tied and determined by the social environment of which they reside in. It becomes not only a duty, but a narrative that each "black artist" must fill.  Artist specific, the black artist is restricted to the framework of blackness. 

Black subject, black matter, social statement. 

This seems to define the purpose of the "black artist".

But is the label "black artist" necessary? Does this title then become a forced narrative or is this a self imposed act imagined by blacks in society?

Can there be another theme, another implication or subject matter for the black artist? Can they ever assume just the title "artist"?

Is it the position of the artist or the implication of a happened black artist to confront a social notion?


If we lose the ingenuity to learn, to educate ourselves, we cannot speak as an individual. We aren’t capable of standing as one, but as a shadow of those before us.

                                                                                        -I aM: Individualistic Minds


The question remains,


Written by Jasmine Boothe

Jasmine BootheComment