Artist Emmanuel Gillespie highlights historical moments through paintings and drawings

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3 mins read

Scenes of trains, children and adults dancing during the Great Migration are the subject of a new art exhibition at Dallas-based Pencil on Paper Gallery. 

Emmanuel Gillespie’s Migration series looks at the period from 1910-1970 when African-Americans made the move from the south up north for fairer treatment, educational opportunities and better work. 

The series, like much of Gillespie’s art, is his way of understanding Black history and where he came from. 

“Most of my work is always going to be research on my past and my time trying to figure out and understand who I am as a person… dealing with the whole idea of the migration, I wanted to show different levels of what was going on.” 

The exhibit, which will have about 30 pieces of both drawings and paintings on display, combines elements of memory, history and abstraction. 

For example, the emphasis on trains and railcars is meant to illustrate the journey of the migrants and what transportation they were primarily using. Scenes of children playing show joy throughout the transition. 

“We always find joy in the midst of this journey that we go on, because we were migrating from the South because of Jim Crow,” he says. “It’s not always the optimum best, but it was better than what we’re escaping.”

Through art, history is being recorded and restoring ownership to the people who created it. 

“I’m hoping that, like anything, this is our history, and we should be proud of that. We should have ownership of images that are about us so that we can keep ourselves and pass it on. More importantly, we can not always go into a museum and see our likeness, so we need to start collecting and owning not only our images but our history.” 

Though Gillespie, who’s also a full-time teacher in Dallas, doesn’t have any personal experience from the movement, he has encountered people who have shared their stories with him. 

“It’s interesting that since I’ve been working displays and from different moments, just hearing stories from other people, I found out they’re actually from Texas, and they were from California,” he says. “Or they tell me their story of how their uncle migrated to the north, and eventually came back and then married someone in the south then went back to the north.” 

A catalog is also in the works for the exhibit with a few words from his wife, Dr. Valerie Gillespie, and Dr. Marvin Dulaney of The African American Museum.

The opening reception for both Migration and Niki Dionne’s Pull Relief In is at 5 p.m. this Saturday, Nov. 19, at Pencil on Paper Gallery. The gallery is located at 4755 Algiers St, Suite 100.

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