ZuCot Gallery, one of the nation’s premier galleries highlighting the works of acclaimed African-American artists, is celebrating the release of the new book, Fight On, which visually expresses the story of the African American spirituals tradition through 59 paintings from a series by Aaron F. Henderson, 56 religious songs lyrics, and narratives by art and culture scholars as well as Henderson himself.
“The elements come together to make this more than an art book, a lyric book, autobiography, or cultural commentary,” said Henderson. “Fight On is a celebratory document of African American culture, giving evidence to how Black people in a nation that grew rich and powerful on the strength of their unpaid labor survived and liberated themselves.”
“What's consistent about Aaron is he’s a student of history and creates work that conveys the journey of Africans and African Americans throughout time,” said Troy Taylor of ZuCot Gallery. “He has always valued history and the scholarly work required to write it. He recognizes its power expressed in different ways, including music.”
Fight On reveals how music has served as medicine, spiritual sustenance, and a means of communication for Black people in general, and Henderson himself in particular. He studies great African American thinkers like W. E. B. Du Bois, who in The Souls of Black Folk called spirituals sorrow songs that “articulate messages of the slave to the world - messages of suffering, despair, freedom, faith, hope, and the power of the spirit.” Henderson references Frederick Douglass who wrote about how there were the double meanings in their words, and how every tone was a testimony against slavery and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains.
Fight On gives credit where it is due and counters the neglect of the spiritual’s tradition as a subject of study in the academy and practice in the community with the aspirational purpose to catalyze a resurgence of interest in the songs and the enslaved African American poets who created them.