John L Warfield Center

Art Meets Actvisim:

Llewellyn Xavier’s George Jackson Series

On View Janurary 17th - May 19th

 

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Llewellyn Xavier: Artist

Born in 1945 on the small Eastern Caribbean island of Saint Lucia, Llewellyn Xavier left his home when he was sixteen, to work as a farm apprentice in the nearby nation of Barbados. There, he received a box of watercolors as a gift—setting him on the path to using art as a tool to explore the world around him. Initially drawn to the natural environment, Xavier started out depicting the tropical scenery of Barbados, earning a reputation in the region as a talented landscape painter. Support from some of his earliest patrons in the Caribbean allowed him to travel the globe.

In 1968 Xavier moved to London, where he was influenced by the political and racial climate of the era. He used photographs and news clippings to create screenprints and mail-art to explore racial discrimination and police brutality, particularly against Black immigrants in the United Kingdom. Xavier’s work secured him a place within the activist Black Arts Movement of the ’60s and ’70s.

After reading George Jackson’s Soledad Brother, Xavier was inspired to write to Jackson in prison. The two men corresponded until Jackson’s death in 1971. In the months following, Xavier created the prints on view here. Within this body of work, in addition to reproductions of the news coverage surrounding Jackson’s death, Xavier includes prison stamps, envelopes and reproductions of the letters that were part of the two men’s exchange.

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George Jackson: Activist

The internationally known African American activist George Jackson (1941–1971) was an inmate of California’s notorious Soledad and San Quentin Prisons. Accused of stealing $70.20 from a gas station, he was imprisoned at sixteen years old and given a sentence of one year to life. Even though Jackson’s case was reviewed annually, he was never released. While incarcerated Jackson became an activist-leader of Soledad’s Black and Chicano inmates. He also had a following outside of prison, maintaining epistolary relationships with many of his supporters.

In a letter to fellow activist Angela Davis, Jackson wrote, “We've grown so accustomed to seeing murder done to us that no one takes it seriously anymore.” Jackson’s letters were eventually compiled into two volumes, Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson, and Blood in My Eye. Along with other powerful works of writing, performance, and visual art, Jackson’s books were part of a renaissance in prison art, which tied into the Black Arts Movement.

In January 1970 Jackson and two other men were accused of murdering a prison guard, days after a guard had killed three Black inmates. Within weeks, the case of the Soledad Brothers emerged as a political cause célèbre. That summer, Jackson was transferred to San Quentin during, what has been described as, an attempted escape Three days before he was due to stand trial, during what has been described as an attempted escape, Jackson was killed by prison guards.

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The works on display from the George Jackson Series are on loan from the Christian-Green Collection.

We must prove our predictions about the future with action. –George Jackson