jonathan-green1_web.jpgAt times, we all need to retreat from the world around us and find a secret hiding place where we can renew our spirit and come away with a stronger sense of purpose.

That’s the message of Jonathan Green’s “Seeking,” a six-foot tall painting of a traditional African-American spiritual quest. The painting is on display at the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center through Oct. 23.

A five-day art festival surrounding the painting kicks off Friday, Oct. 17 with a reception at the New River Inn in Fort Lauderdale, where attendees will have the opportunity to meet Green.

“I am excited about having Jonathan’s paintings here and this exhibit,’’ said Julie Hunter, acting director of the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center. “He’s trying to depict what has happened in our community from an artistic standpoint and has done a marvelous job with that. All of us have to find ourselves and “Seeking” interprets an experience he has gone through—all of us have to go through. The essence of it is trying to find ourselves internally.’’

Presented in collaboration with the Cultural Foundation of Broward County, the exhibition is part of the “Seeking the Self: The Art of Jonathan Green Festival,” which will take place Oct. 17-21.

For the past two decades, Green, 53, has created numerous paintings such as “Seeking” that illustrate his personal experiences in a Sea Islands Gullah community located along the South Carolina coast.  The direct descendants of Angolan slaves who labored on rice plantations, the Gullah people lived in small farming and fishing communities, and made African-style handicrafts such as baskets and hats.

Green uses these familiar images as the subjects of his paintings and as a way of preserving his Gullah culture. In his art, Green looks to his family traditions, community and life in the South. He stresses the principles of work, love, belonging and spirituality. Green is noted for his use of vibrant color as he expresses the everyday life of the human figure on the coastal marshes of South Carolina.

Green said “Seeking” was inspired by a trip in 2004 to Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist monastery outside Charleston, S.C., where he saw an unmarked slave cemetery on the grounds of what may have been a large plantation. The Abbot, Francis Kline, wanted to cleanse the grounds by commemorating the contributions that enslaved Africans had made to Mepkin, and make amends to their spirits for their suffering.

A difficult experience that Green describes as “metaphysical,” he worked tirelessly on the project because he envisioned the gruesome labor his ancestors had done on the large Mepkin plantation, and wanted to experience a similar enslavement.

“He asked me if I could be involved in this project and help bring some level of closure to the enslaved Africans that were there at some time. I thought about for a year and I thought about a time in my life that would have a deep and profound message,” Green told the South Florida Times.

As the church is the cornerstone of many African-American communities, Green embarked upon a Gullah tradition of a life-altering spiritual quest. At 11 years old, Green said he was sent by church leaders into the woods to get in touch with his inner spirit and seek guidance and direction. During this time, he said, his soul was cleansed by prayer and a limited fruits and vegetables fast.

“It is a time of moving into adulthood, spiritual, coming-of-age ritual. It is also the time when your mother is no longer responsible for your sins, and it also positions you to become a candidate for baptism in the church,” Green said.

After several nights, the church elders would then meet participants in the forest and have them recount their dreams. If the elders decided their dreams would help to propel them further in life, they accepted and baptized the “seeker” into the church. If the boys had no recollection of their dreams or they were deemed unproductive, they had to stay in the woods, said Green.

In his extraordinary “Seeking’’ painting, someone sits in a dark forest illuminated by the crimson shadows of the morning sun. Within the forest are two more figures: the spirit who comes to guide you through your life, and an eternal figure. The butterflies fluttering their wings emphasize that there is hope, Green said.

On Saturday, Oct. 18, the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival will present a screening of a documentary on the making of “Seeking” with film maker Charles Allan Smith at the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale. A jazz reception and panel discussion with author Kitty Oliver and Charleston, S.C., storyteller Barbara Burgess follows.

On Sunday, Oct. 19, the public will have an opportunity to meet the artist in a family-friendly atmosphere at the African American Research Library and Cultural Center. The Jubilee Dance Theatre will perform a choreographed dance selection called “Seeking” in honor of Jonathan Green’s artwork. The New Mount Olive Baptist of Fort Lauderdale Church Choir is scheduled to perform, and the winners of the Broward County Student Poetry Contest for the best interpretation of “Seeking” will be announced.

The five-day festival will conclude with a Symphony of the Americas gala concert and reception at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale, featuring an orchestral composition based on Green's painting.

Green said he was enthralled  with the festival's honor.

“I am ever so humbled by it,” he said. “It's difficult to see myself as the inspiration behind it all.”

Tayltra9@Aol.com

Photo by Elgin Jones/SFT Staff. Jonathan Green stands beside his painting, “Bessie Mae.”



IF YOU GO

WHAT: The signature Jonathan Green painting “Seeking’’ is on display.

WHERE: The African-American Research Library and Cultural Center
2650 Sistrunk Blvd., near Fort Lauderdale.

WHEN: Now through Oct. 23. The library is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

CONTACT: 954-625-2810, 954-357-7321, or log onto www.jonathangreenfestival.com.
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WHAT: Cocktail reception and opportunity to meet artist Jonathan Green.

WHEN: 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 17.

WHERE: New River Inn, 219 SW 91st Ave., Fort Lauderdale.

CONTACT: 954-625-2810, 954-357-7321, or log onto www.jonathangreenfestival.com.

COST: $50
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WHAT: Jonathan Green Art Festival Reception

WHERE: The African-American Research Library and Cultural Center, 2650 Sistrunk Blvd. near Fort Lauderdale.

WHEN: Oct. 19, 2008 from 1-5 p.m. Performances start at 2 p.m.

COST: Free reception. Tickets may be purchased at other individual events or for the full festival.

CONTACT: For more information, call Melanie Camp at 954-565-8608 or visit www.JonathanGreenfestival.com.