I’m trying to decide if I’m more disappointed by our lack of awareness of art and artists, or by our lack of awareness of the larger world into which we are supposed to share the gospel and minister. The representative at Loma Linda mentions that the painting prompted conversations, without any comment on what those might have been, and concludes by saying that the impact and interpretation is “certainly not our area of expertise.” However, even the smallest amount of curiously or robust interest would have found many artists and art professors in our community willing to inform them, and a host of articles on Kerry James Marshall, since he is a major American artist and painter of the African American experience.
The larger miss in the official commentary on this piece which was displayed at Loma Linda for three years, lies in the context of the painting itself. In partnership with the theme of critiquing our culture’s shallow standards of female beauty, this depiction of a medical dissection of a Black female stirs into the sad history of experiments conducted on enslaved and impoverished Black Americans, the eugenics which had assigned them lesser mental and genetic attributes. Most significantly, the use of the female form strikes at the ethical blight of the Henrietta Lacks case, where the cellular material of a Black female cancer patient was used without permission from, or financial remuneration to, her or her family. Those collected cells impacted hundreds of medical and genetic research studies. This would be a significant conversation, and either an ethical obligation ducked or responsible discussion-opportunity missed considering that the funds raised by this sale benefit the Genetics and Transitional Genomics Department.
I’m certain, as the article states, art isn’t their area of expertise, but the university has ethics courses and professors, and certainly some awareness of medical history and events. In terms of art awareness and appreciation, an average amount of honest curiosity and an internet search might have informed and educated them and us. The university motto: To Make Man Whole, might also apply to our being artistically, historically and culturally aware. For those interested in this artist, and Beauty Examined and some of his other works, this is a helpful article I myself found on a Google search. Kerry James Marshall's Mastry - Interview Magazine