Jubilee Ghana Harvest Festival, by John Biggers
As a painter, muralist, illustrator, and sculptor, John Biggers has made innumerable contributions to American art and culture. In the 1950s he became one of the first African-American artists to travel to Africa, and to integrate African motifs and symbolism into his artwork. His pioneering achievements have influenced generations of artists in the United States and abroad.
Biggers also influenced thousands of young artists directly, as a professor of art at Texas Southern University. In 1949 he was recruited by the newly founded university to establish its art department. Biggers taught at Texas Southern for more than thirty years, winning several prestigious awards for his teaching.
In 1995 a retrospective exhibition of Biggers’s work, titled The Art of John Biggers: View from the Upper Room, was organized by Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts. The show also traveled to five cities in the South and Northeast. “He is someone who has retained, over 50 years, an emphasis on African-American culture,” Alvia J. Wardlaw, curator of the exhibition, told the magazine American Visions. “He was one of the first African-American artists to study and live in West Africa and to bring back to us, in the late 1950s, images of African culture that were positive and personal—and accurate. And I think that is probably his greatest gift to American culture,” Wardlaw continued.
“John Biggers is a poet, philosopher, teacher, draughtsman, painter, sculptor, muralist, and, above all, an inspirational leader,” wrote Peter C. Marzio, director of Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts, in the exhibition catalog, also titled The Art of John Biggers: View from the Upper Room. “He leads us with his powerful imagery, his impassioned discourse, his intense energy, and his all-consuming belief in the human community and its mystical interaction with the natural world,” he added.
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