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Harvey Johnson


THE LANGUAGE OF OUR SOULS HARVEY JOHNSON My poetry expresses the relationship between our African ancestral culture and African communities throughout America. This foundation of which emerges from an aesthetic of a people who, “on the study of the laws of nature, founded the elements of the arts and sciences and those civil and religious systems which still govern the universe “. Volney, C.F. in The Ruins of Empires We have been given the complex meaning of these scientific laws governing the order of the universe and it’s ever evolving cycles of healing, life and death, and rebirth – a triple middle passage. My visual poetry is deeply grounded in African spirituals, gospels, blues, and jazz, recognizing the capacity of the African community in America to transcend racial abuse while transforming it into a positive spiritual humanity. African Spirituals, formally known as “Negro spirituals “, are the focal point of my visual poetry because, they are not only sorrows songs of Holocaust and devastating tragedy but are also evidence of an African aesthetic. To help better understand the unique African aesthetics portrayed in my visual poetry, I share with you the unique signs and symbols of a universal African aesthetic. THE FEMALE FIGURE- She symbolizes the arc of humanity, Mother of “The Father and The Son “. She is “AST“, the arc of humanity, the Holy mother, the creator of man and the “Greatest Good” of mankind. THE BLACK “WASHPOTS”- Rebirth. The washpot symbolizes a repository of water, fire, sun and the moon. It also symbolizes domestic cleansing, as well as the continuity of the ancestral DNA through the offspring from the mother’s womb. WASHBOARD - “Jacob’s Ladder“. This refers to the two sections of the text of Unas in which, according to legend, Osiris ascended from earth to heaven. This “Ladder of The Dead “, or “Stairway of The Dead “, is from the Book of The Coming Forth By Day and By Night [ Book of The Dead and Papyrus Of Ani ]. QUILTS- The quilts are very important. They symbolize the sacred geometric language of the cosmos, noting transformation and transition, and transmutation. They are also sacred symbols of family and ancestry. Each piece of fabric is from a family member, meticulously hand sewn together and creating a ancestral covering to shield and warm generation after generation. WATER- The resting pot represents the coolness of water. It provides peace and comfort to the body and the soul. The resting pot is also symbolic of the womb of the earthly mother as well as the cosmic mother. Of Water and the Spirit Malidoma Some’ FIRE- Opposite the pot is the fire, symbolizing the spirit that makes us do, feel, see, love, and hate. This fire can be seen in each one of us, shining like the stars that you see above your heads. It is what outwardly drives us toward one another or away from each other. It symbolizes the creation of our real family. WATER AND FIRE All human beings are “circles”, or if you prefer, “cycles”. The combination of fire and water represents the gap between how we look on the outside and how we are on the inside. This combination of the elements together, the womb and the fire, can also symbolize the creation of life. TURTLES- The turtle is a personification of the Sun as it completes its cycle from water to spirit (fire) around the celestial zodiac. SACRED BOAT- The scared boat represents the journey through the Triple Middle Passage of healing, life and death, and rebirth. It begins with the immaculate conception of all of us in the womb and sanctity of our mothers. It continues with the transformation of all of us from body to spirit. It acknowledges the holocaust of the transatlantic slave trade and all other injustices. Finally, it carries us to our spiritual rebirth. This is also what African spirituals, formerly “Negro Spirituals “are all about. SIX- POINTED STAR- The inverted pyramids intersecting to become a six-pointed star date back as far back as 77,000 B.C. Originally used to describe the elements and their movements, this star, or pyramids, have been used to pass on knowledge of the elements and their qualities throughout history, later becoming associated with the mother who is responsible for all things. “This ancient star also has contemporary meanings including male and female, fire, and water, the personal and impersonal and the perfect balance of opposites: the hermaphrodite.” Michelle Snyder, “Symbology: Decoding Classic Images” Only much later did the Jewish religion adopt it as a symbol of their faith. THE LOTUS- Above and below Nun (primal waters) represents the rising and setting of the Sun. SCALES OF JUSTICE- The mother, “MAAT “, the feather of truth weighed against the heart symbolizing equality, justice, and balance. THE SPIDER (Anansi)- The Web of Life in Africa. “Anansi is the spider, a heroic character in African folklore. Like Br’er fox, he outwits all the other creatures of the forest. He depicts every kind of hero. There is an ANANSE story for every situation in life. God gave ANANSE the meaning of order. He taught him architecture, the structure of dwellings, and the structure of life and society. This is symbolized by his web, which stands also for the sun, and its rays, and the sun personifies God.” Dr. John Biggers, “Ananse; The Web of Life in Africa” THE WINGED VULTURE (Nek h bet)- “Nek h bet dates to predynastic Egypt. She is a Nubian creator goddess and motherly protector of children and women. She would take the form of a winged vulture and use her wings to shield and protect. She is also known as “father of fathers and mother of mothers”. FROGS- Regeneration. The frog has appeared as a symbol of fertility, water, and renewal since ancient Egypt. Pre-Colombian Mesoamerica worshipped a frog Goddess named Ceneoti as the patron of childbirth and fertility. THE COCK (rooster)- The cock’s “song” rattles our sleep and sense of complacency, and it stirs our consciousness of the Triple Middle Passage (see paragraph 2). FISH- Symbolizes the procreation and proliferation of life. ALL HEAD DRESSES- Represent the reverence for the Holy Spirit. WISDOM KNOT- The wisdom knot is the knot of intelligence. “The individual who can untied this knot knows the secret of the sum total of human knowledge”. Also knowledgeable about traditions and customs. SANKOFA BIRD- “The Sankofa bird appears frequently in traditional Akan art, and has also been adopted as an important symbol in an African-American and African Diaspora context to represent the need to reflect on the past to build a successful future. It is one of the most widely dispersed adinkra symbols, appearing in modern jewelry, tattoos, and clothing.” W. Bruce Willis, The Adinkra dictionary: A visual primer on the language of Adinkra, Pyramid Complex Wikipedia SAN- to return, retract one’s steps; return to the roots; KO- to go; Fa- to recuperate. SHOTGUN HOUSES- Across America there are shotgun houses or remnants of them. The origin of these structures originated in Africa. The symbolism within the structures dates to the Nubian pyramids and other African architectures. The symbolic meaning of family is incorporated in the triangular roof design with the mother at the highest point and the father and offspring compromising the bottom left and right corners of the roof. This triangular roof sits on a four cornered foundation, symbolic of the four corners of the Earth (North, East, West and South) and the four elements of earth, wind, fire, and water. SWIRLING LINES- These lines, which we see as sweeping, spiraling movements, connecting everything. They represent the ever-evolving cycles of the cosmic elements of earth, wind, fire, and water. They are in part our essence and are essential for all existence. We are this sacred circular cycle.

Title: Of Water and Spirit
HJ-015 Of Water and Spirit.JPEG

Medium: Conte Crayon   
Date: 2000   
Size: 24x18 unique 
Signature: Signed lower right, dated, titled verso         
Price: $8,800.00

Title: West Winds: Disembodied
IMG_9597 (1).jpg

Medium: Conte Crayon on paper  
Date: 1971
Size: 39” x 25.25” 
Signature: Signed “Harvey Johnson” lower right, dated titled verso. 

Price: $8,500      
Provenance: From the Artist

Title: Scared Intimacy

Medium: Conte Crayon 
Date: c1980
Size: 39" x 25.75" 
Signature: Signed lower left, signed, dated, titled verso       
Price: $11,000

Title: One Mo’ River to Cross

Medium: Conte Crayon on paper

Date: 2000

Size: 38” x 27” (oval)

Signature: Signed, dated, titled verso

Provenance: Estate of the artist

Price: $9,500.00

Title: The Miracle Witness

Medium: Conte Crayon

Date: 1990

Size: 35.5" x 23.75"

Signature: Signed lower left, dated, titled verso

Price: $10,500.00

Title: Sanctuary

Medium: Conte Crayon on paper

Date: 1980

Size: 34" x 22"

Signature: Signed lower right, titled verso

Price: $10,500.00

Title: O Holy Night

Medium: Conte Crayon

Date: No Date c.1980

Size: 34" x 22"

Signature: Signed lower left, titled on verso

Price: $10,200.00

Title: Song of the Wind

Medium: Conte Crayon on paper

Date: 2013

Size: 33" x 28"

Signature: Signed lower right, signed, titled, dated on verso

Price: $9,200.00

Title: The Accusers
IMG_9585 (1).JPEG

Medium: Conte Crayon on paper

Date: 1980

Size: 19" x 37"

Signature: Signed dated, titled on verso

Price: $9,800.00

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