Marcus Jamal Williams Statement:
In accounts as far back as the 1790s, European slave traders observed with bewilderment the elaborate greetings within West African communities, which often involved hand-to-hand contact and concluded with a finger snap. During enslavement, Africans used these types of greetings to communicate and identify members within certain groups without provoking the barbarism of their enslavers. In the late 1960s, as a symbol of commitment to solidarity, consciousness, and survival, the dap—an acronym for dignity and pride—was a non-verbal system of communication developed among Black GIs in Vietnam, which still persists in various forms among Black communities today.
"Dignity and Pride" delves into the historical tapestry of hand-based communication within the Black community, transcending continents and centuries. Scholars have noted that such unique salutations, whether observed in a municipal pool or a sacred church space, serve as affirmations of filial connections within the Black community. In exploring the legacy of the use of our hands as a means of communication and survival, I also considered the cultural significance of our hands in other facets of our lives throughout history. This exhibition highlights the enduring cultural links between Black people across various geographic and social landscapes, specifically through the way we use our hands. In addition to our greetings and hand gestures, the use of our hands has been a constant point of distinction in various areas of our existence and allows us to maintain some connection to other parts of the African diaspora.
Layering techniques in my artwork mirror the complexities of these cultural connections, inviting viewers to navigate through obscured and revealed elements. Acrylic paint forms the core medium, complemented by experimental applications of spray paint and oil sticks on diverse surfaces like canvas and wood. The choice of wood parallels the rich diversity of Black skin tones, reinforcing the exhibition's exploration of manual expressions that have endured through time and forced separation from their sources. Text is used to supplement these themes by presenting linguistic characteristics of African American English, which are in many instances rooted in traditionally African ways of communicating.
In "Dignity and Pride," I aim to cast a positive light on aspects of Black culture often framed as illegitimate or of lower class by colonizing forces. By highlighting the intricacies in the language of our hands, from greetings to rhythms, accessorizing to prayer, this exhibition celebrates the enduring spirit of dignity and pride within the Black community.