The Language of Our Souls: The Visual Poetry of Harvey Johnson

April 25-30, featuring additional works by John Biggers, Delita Martin, and Kermit Oliver

Phillips Theological Seminary is pleased to present the 2023 Race Massacre Lectureship and Art Exhibition featuring the art of Harvey Johnson on its Tulsa, Okla. campus, April 25-30 from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. on the Tulsa, Okla. campus with an opening reception April 23 from 5–9 p.m.. The show also features works by John Biggers, Delita Martin, and Kermit Oliver.

Johnson came to Houston from Port Arthur to study art at Texas Southern University under world- renowned artist, sculptor, and teacher, John Biggers, who founded the school’s art program in 1949. Johnson completed his undergraduate degree at TSU and went on to get his MFA at Washington State University. He returned two years later to teach art at TSU for 34 years before retiring in 2007.

This is a click to register button.

Artist Statement

Rather than a traditional artist biography, Johnson offers this statement:

“Walk Together Children”

Dedicated to all young people and the journey – they must endure for the survival of this planet.

I am a seed from a mother and father of the Southern soil of Texas and a child of African roots. As I emerged from the oil fields of Port Arthur, Texas into the urban setting of Houston, Texas, I discovered how I fit into the rich Texas quilted pattern of cultural diversity. This diversity, this contrast of Native, African, Mexican, Caucasian, and Asian peoples have all helped to create a Texas “ aesthetic “ , and contributes to a rich vision for Texas posterity. My poetry speaks of African spirituals or what continues to be referred to as “Negro Spirituals.”1 A young African student at Key Middle School in Houston, Texas, stated that spirituals are “secret messages in song about God.” It is the most profound and sophisticated meaning of these songs I have ever read or heard. I feel African spirituals and nature have given us a complex meaning of the sacred laws governing the order of the universe in its ever evolving cycles of life and death and life. An example of this can be heard in the spiritual, “We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder.” Spirituals and nature embraces healing and renewal.

My poetry tries to express a continuous journey of healing – healing generated within me with the assistance of Spirit, African ancestors, a parental matriarch, and elders. They all provided access allowing for the discovery of personal identity, purpose and meaning of my existence as a part of what I call a triple “middle passage.”

The first middle passage is the journey of an immaculate conception as we come into this life through the boat of heaven that is the sacred womb of all mothers. For months, our mothers of “The Father and The Son” navigate us in her holy sanctuary through the many fires of life as we finally emerge into the light. Life is not about safety however and some of us do not make it. I feel that some of us return to that unfrozen reality, the invisible. Our mother’s heartbeat to us, like the rhythmic beat of the drum, is the “Word,” the first communication to us of the articulation of language and civilization.

The second middle passage echoes these words from a spiritual, “Ev’-ry-bo-dy talk-in’ ‘bout heab’n aint goin’ dere…” This speaks to the transatlantic slave trade and its ramifications to this present day, a holocaust of unmerciful human pillage and destruction. I hope my poetry expresses a compassion, which we all must have, for other people whose grief is just as deep about their holocaust. A great American author said, “History is not the past…history is the present.” And I will add that history is also the future.

The third middle passage is about human transformation, not only ultimately from body to spirit literally but, transforming human and environmental abuse into positive spirituality and humaneness. I hope my poetry stimulate consciousness to awaken each of us to the purpose for which we came into this world or were born into this life.

We live in an environment where myths about ourselves have become the norm, have become realities. These myths are used as a frame of reference for our very existence. We have become prisoners to a history of our own making. I feel that poetry encourages an awakening of our senses by expressing how the language of nature puts an end to all human myths and forces us back to reality. Earth, wind, fire, water, minerals, and animals speak to us, trying to bring us closer together. Nature forces us to see that many of our fears and insecurities come from the inner unsolved struggles we are having about ourselves, which many times we transfer to others. As I share my journey with you, I hope that you focus on your own journey.

I feel good about the energy of our youth. They seem to be aware that jobs and careers do not definite success and the spirit of their being. “Your ability to see is always a delusion of what you see, and what you see, is usually a translation of your own limitation at seeing until you are taught how to see…it’s an introduction into that area of silence where meaning exist independently of human extortion and it is an introduction into that area of human experience where it is possible at least to reconstruct one’s history going beyond one’s birth into a timeless moment where one can see one’s self as much older as one look in order to be able to understand why one occurred in this particular time and what for.” –Malidoma Some’, African Shaman

Poetry is one of many visionary expressions that can inspire, to help us stay in touch with the silent language of our souls in keeping with the rhythmic balance and harmony of nature as it moves toward a greater scheme of creation. You may wonder whether this is all there is to being here in this life. It is if this is the limitation of your thinking, feelings, and emotions. Nature is the key to teaching us about unlimited doorways connecting us to a cosmic conception and journey. Our young people have the opportunity to create new worlds of spiritual values which can define us as true human beings.

In the spirit of the Negro Spiritual, let us all “Walk Together Children.” I don’t know anything else more important. Harvey Johnson

1 Poetry in this context refers to visual, musical, dance, literary, and theatric expressions that address the what, where, when, how, and why of human existence. It replaces the term “art” for a deeper meaning of the human journey.

2023 Tulsa Race Massacre Lectureship on April 24

Bishop of Ecumenical & Urban Affairs Jeffrey Nathaniel Leath will deliver a lecture titled “The Destruction of Black Wall Street and the Burden of Invisibility” for the 2023 Tulsa Race Massacre Lectureship at Phillips Theological Seminary. The lecture is April 24 with a reception at 5:30 p.m. and lecture at 6:45 p.m.