20″ x 24″ Oil on linen, framed by the artist
Denmark Vessey was inspired by the recent protests over the wrongful deaths of George Floyd and other people of color, including the Emanuel Nine in 2015. Denmark Vessey (c.1767 — July 2, 1822) was a literate, skilled carpenter and leader of African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina. In June 1822 he was accused and convicted of being the leader of “the rising,” a potentially major slave revolt which was scheduled to take place in the city on July 14. He was executed on July 2. In 1818. He was one of the founders of an independent African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in the city, which became known as the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church after the Civil War. This was also the site of the massacre of nine African Americans, perpetrated by white nationalist Dylann Roof.
During the making of the film Emanuel, I gathered photos of “the possy”, of which I was acting as a member, who are depicted here during the arrest. In my painting, Vessey appears as an indomitable spirit, standing with dignity, bible in hand, as if above the hatred of the racists, who’s anger and fear, represented by their torches, is going up in smoke and dissipating into thin air.The painting is a reminder of America’s longstanding scourge of racism and the ongoing fight for equality and restitution of the country’s original sin of slavery. It is also intended to reaffirm that the forces of hate will never win and that faith, hope and love will ultimately win out.
I had been planning this painting for the two years or so since the film. It commemorates the fifth anniversary of the massacre.
The painting is a continuation of The Quench Project and the Mire of Desire, exploring how our desires tend to control us, whether they are healthy in nature or more malevolent. It is also part of my Iconic Charleston series and the Dylann Roof courtroom sketches.