‘River to River Deep’
Napoleon Jones-Henderson exhibit a ‘visual memoir’
Veteran local artist and longtime AfriCOBRA member Napoleon Jones-Henderson is kicking off the new year with “River to River Deep,” an exhibit on view at The Barry Group Beacon Hill offices through Jan. 31.
Born in Chicago in 1943, Jones-Henderson attended the Sorbonne in Paris, France, earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1971 and a Master of Fine Arts from Maryland Institute College of Art in 2005.
In the late 1960s, he became involved in the Coalition of Black Revolutionary Artists, or COBRA (later renamed AfriCOBRA). During those years, he created large-scale figurative weavings that were showcased in the group’s exhibitions. The influence of that weaving technique can still be seen in the color choices and pattern styles of his more recent works.
In 1979, Jones-Henderson began to make his mark on Boston as executive director of the Research Institute of African and African Diaspora Arts, Inc. in Roxbury. He also served in academic roles at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and Emerson College and was honored by the National Conference of Artists with the Award of Excellence and the Massachusetts State Senate with a Citation for Cultural Excellence.
Though intimate in scale, the current exhibition showcases the breadth of Jones-Henderson’s work both in media and style. Jones-Henderson is known for his mosaic-style works made with enamel painted tiles, but he’s also created weavings and screen prints. “I feel the exhibition is a sort of visual memoir,” says Jones-Henderson. “I’m very concerned with my works having aesthetic nourishment. They’re visual music.”
Music is a theme throughout the show. One piece, titled “A Few Words From the Prophet Stevie” pays homage to Stevie Wonder. Another, titled “Bebop Kuba,” references the jazz sounds of the 1940s. The artist also includes a reference to Malcolm X. “I thought it was quite timely in the location, so close to the [former] Charles Street Jail where Malcolm X spent some time,” he says.
The exhibition title, “River to River Deep,” is meant to represent the Niger River in West Africa, where many African Americans are descendent from, and the Mississippi River, which many African Americans crossed when leaving the U.S. South. “That reference is a poetic reference to water as a vital part of life worldwide, but specifically to the migration of the African people,” says Jones-Henderson.
The artist hopes “River to River Deep” will inspire people aesthetically and incite them to learn more about the history included in each title. Jones-Henderson says, “I hope viewers will be moved spiritually to consider the larger landscape of humanity.”