BLACK CHRIST ON CROSS
Clementine Hunter
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  • BLACK CHRIST ON CROSS
  • Clementine Hunter (1886/87–1988)
  • Natchitoches, Louisiana
  • c. 1972
  • Oil on cardboard
  • 27 1/4 x 12 1/4 in.
  • American Folk Art Museum, gift of Mrs. Chauncey Newlin, 1991.23.1
  • Religious faith was central to Clementine Hunter’s life, and her images reflect African-Christian traditions and practices of the rural South. Activities at St. Augustine Catholic Church, near the artist’s home at Melrose Plantation, served as inspiration. Hunter documented people going to church, attending funerals and weddings, and taking part in baptisms. In paintings based on biblical texts, the Crucifixion and nativity scenes with angels are common. Hunter’s crucifixion scenes are among her most intriguing works because her religious figures are black. Of one of her crucifixions, Hunter said, “That’s Black Jesus. . . . I don’t know if [he is] black or white . . . nearly everybody says ‘Black Jesus’ so I thought I’d make him black like.”

    In this painting, Hunter offered a quiet pathos. The symmetrical composition features a black Christ figure on a centrally positioned stark white cross against a pale lavender background, calling to mind the historical suffering of black people in a white world. The aureole around his head may be understood as abundant hair, emblematic of a life source and strength. Two small empty crosses to each side stand in place of the customary crucified thieves. Two black angels wearing white robes, their hair and garments flowing upward, are a counterpoint to the crosses. Their conelike beehive hairdos are reminiscent of Senegalese and Ivory Coast coiffures. The angels, looking down from heaven, lighten the otherwise tragic scene and hint at the transformative power of faith.
  • Photo by Gavin Ashworth