On March 19, the Michael C. Carlos Museum
of Emory University is presenting the exhibition, Indigo Prayers: A Creation Story, a series of paintings by local Atlanta artist, Charmaine Minniefield, inspired by her time in the Gambia, West Africa searching for her grandmother's ancestral lines. The resulting body of work builds on an ongoing exploration of the Ring Shout, an African American practice of resistance whose West African origins predate enslavement. This full-bodied rhythmic prayer was taught to Minniefield by her great-grandmother. It was performed by her ancestors during enslavement as a way to secretly preserve their African identity.
Minniefields work explores indigenous pigments like indigo, crushed oyster shells, and mahogany bark as evidence of cultural preservation through time and across the Middle Passage. Her work recalls the history of these elements as ancestral totems reaffirming identity, like the Adinkra symbols in freedom quilts, hidden in plain sight to show the way home. Minniefield inserts her own body into each work as an act of remembrance. Her movements, embodied memories of her maternal ancestors, reassert Black identity and resilience as resistance today.
Indigo Prayers: A Creation Story is being presented in conjunction with Minniefields Praise Houses, which recreate the small, single-room structures in which enslaved people gathered to worship. The first in the series of Praise Houses was constructed at Oakland Cemetery in conjunction with Flux Projects to celebrate Juneteenth 2021 and honor the over 800 enslaved people interred in the cemeterys African American burial grounds. While Minniefields Praise House at Oakland has now closed, she plans future locations in downtown Decatur, on Emory Universitys Atlanta campus, and at South-View Cemetery, where Congressman John Lewis was laid to rest.
Firmly rooted in womanist social theory and ancestral veneration, the work of Charmaine Minniefield draws from indigenous traditions as seen throughout Africa and the Diaspora to explore African and African-American history, memory, and ritual as an intentional push back against erasure. Minniefields creative practice is community based. Her research and resulting bodies of work often draw from public archives as she excavates the stories of African-American women-led resistance, spirituality, and power. She recently served as the Stuart A. Rose Library artist-in-residence at Emory University. Through a collaboration with Flux Projects, she presented her work Remembrance as Resistance: Preserving Black Narratives in Atlantas historically segregated cemetery to honor the over 800 unmarked graves that were discovered in the African-American burial grounds. Minniefield was awarded the prestigious National Endowment for the Arts Our Town Grant to present her Praise House project at three different locations in the metro Atlanta area to celebrate the African-American history of those communities. She currently splits her time in residence between Atlanta and the Gambia, where she continues to study the origins of her cultural identity and Indigenous traditions by tracing the Ring Shout.