Though still early in his career, Hamilton already commands respect for his talent and vigorous engagement with ideas. Since completing study at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2009, he has taught, mentored and inspired young and aspiring artists at “Art a la carte” and Artists for Humanity. In 2015, he was selected as an international Arts Connect Artist-in-Residence, leading to an extended collaboration with the Nike Center for Art and Culture. As a resident artist, he was able to intensively explore African spiritual and philosophical ideas as well as traditional skills such as Adire indigo dyeing, beading, weaving and wood carving during nearly a year’s stay in Nigeria.
Hamilton’s burning interest in Yoruba thought and practice led him to immerse himself in learning about traditions from Ifa divination to the Sixteen Cowries (Merindingogun) to Oriki praise poetry. In the faces of the elders of the traditional village, he came to see the Yoruba Orishas manifested daily. He saw that they were the priestesses and priests of a potent system of beliefs, aesthetics, sacred places and practices. These elders are the stewards of a vibrant contemporary cultural and spiritual community that exists both in African and beyond in the Diaspora.
Mustering his well-honed skills as a fine artist and illustrator, Hamilton launched the Itan Project wherein he seeks to introduce young people to Yoruba thought and African spirituality as expressed throughout communities of African descent. This goal was a motivation for his creation of works that celebrate ‘Divine Blackness” and that re-imagined the faces of village elders as Orishas, painting their likenesses on panels of rough-spun local cotton some of which he wove and dyed with indigo. By studying the ancient knowledge of these techniques as still carried on in Yoruba land, he hopes to use his art to stimulate a conversation about the rich philosophical and technical heritage of Africa.
This exhibition is the first fruit of his fascination and investigation of the ancient links between black people on both sides of the Atlantic. Black Gods Live reminds us, for example, that colonial South Carolina was an indigo colony before it became a rice, and still later a cotton plantation economy.
Hamilton, comfortable with figuration, visualizes the vitality of Yoruba spiritual forces as living not just in natural phenomena, but also through the people themselves. In this, he saw their presence not just in the ecstasy of possessions such as those associated with Candomble in Brazil or Naga rites in Haitian Voudou, but also in the power of their daily presence. The village sages were one with the Orishas in their essence. With this conviction, he strove to capture not firstly their likenesses, but rather, to infuse their likenesses with primal force and distilled wisdom.
By recreating their images so powerfully, he allows them to transcend their local African setting and to meld in elderly black people here in Roxbury. They become one with the familiar faces that you might know from church or family gathering in black communities here or elsewhere. Black Gods Live, as our exhibition is titled, bridges the distance between the spiritual and aesthetic worlds of Africa, Boston and the Americas.