Kymberly N. Pinder is Dean of the College of Fine Arts at the University of New Mexico. Her book Painting the Gospel: Black Public Art and Religion in Chicago explores the social and spiritual impact of African American religious art. The book is lavishly illustrated with over 60 photographs of public street art, stained glass, church murals and sculptures.
Recently, the author took time to answer some questions about Painting the Gospel.
Q: Painting the Gospel delves deep not just into individual works, but into the genre of black public art. What was your first exposure to the communities and churches you explore in the book?
Kymberly Pinder: A local stained glass scholar Rolf Achilles directed me to Quinn Chapel because of my interest in images of black Christs.
Q: Does the presence of so much of this kind of art indicate that religious identity is a more public act in the communities you write about than in, say, the suburbs?
Pinder: I write a lot about black publics in my book because there are so many different communities within the African American population and each has its own spiritual needs. The art in my book is focused on the urban environment in Chicago and definitely has been affected by the intense visual interactions in a city due to its galleries and museums and graffiti to billboards.
Q: Painting the Gospel ranges far not only in geographic space but in time. What is the oldest piece of art you examine in the book?
Pinder: It is a 1904 painting of Christ, Mary and angels in the apse of Quinn AME Chapel—and it still exists.
Q: Is all of the art you consider in the book Christian art?
Pinder: Most of the work is Christian, although I discuss the role of other religions such as Islam and Judaism in the larger context of black American religious movements. The Al Sadiq Mosque is part of one of the public art tours.
Q: What can be learned from the use of more contemporary images like taxicabs or modern dress in Black Public Art (as opposed to historical images or reproductions that are often seen in religious artwork)?
Pinder: As I discuss in the book regarding some religious imagery on clothing, the human body is often a repository for imagery that actually moves through from location to location and context to context. As is also the case with signage on vehicles like busses, trains and cabs, its mobility creates endless possibilities for audiences and interpretations.
Q: The maps and tours in the book make it easy for anyone to find and enjoy the artworks. Are all of the pieces you discuss in the book still visible today?
Pinder: Unfortunately, some have been lost—the most recent mural All of Mankind by William Walker was just destroyed last summer despite years of effort and fundraising to save it. We mourn the losses but most of the outdoor murals in the book were created to be temporary. Preservationists and historians like myself always want to save them but the artists often made them to speak to current concerns and therefore, wanted them to change over time to remain relevant to their communities.