Middle Passage exhibit opens

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 6, 2003

Artist and author Tom Feelings was in Selma Sunday to kick off a two-month exhibition of his work “The Middle Passage” at the Slavery and Civil War Museum.

The exhibition visually depicts the harrowing journey of slaves from Africa to the United States. It consists of 50 photographs and two pieces of statuary.

“If you can’t look at your own history, it stunts growth,” Feelings said. “This country will never grow up until we’re able to look at our history &045;&045; all of our history, including those parts that are painful to look at. You can’t jump over it. Only once you consciously allow yourself to grieve can the healing process begin.”

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“The Middle Passage” is unique in that the entire series of original paintings was conceived and executed over a period of 20 years. Feelings admits he experienced uncertainty at times about whether he would be able to complete the series.

“I worried about whether I could tell this story, about whether I could get it just right,” he said. “More than once I asked myself, ‘Why are you doing this? Nobody wants to look at all this pain.’ Sometimes I would be so weary I would actually lay down. But I would hear the voice of my grandmother telling me, ‘Get up! Go back! You’re not doing this for yourself!'”

Feelings said reactions to the exhibit, which graphically depicts the Middle Passage in all its horrors, vary. Audiences, both black and white, are often troubled by the images. One group that consistently remains open to the message of the exhibit, he added, is children.

“Children don’t have a problem with it. They just want to know the truth,” Feelings said. “It’s the adults who reject the truth, because then they have to start questioning everything they’ve learned before.”

Museum board member Faya Rose Toure agreed.

“There’s such a fear of knowing our history, that’s why this exhibit is so important,” Toure said. “When I see our children today not surviving unemployment, not surviving drugs…. If they only knew what our ancestors survived &045;&045; and overcame &045;&045; they would be more inspired.

“We want to tell this story, not to engender hatred. We want to tell this story so that our children will be better able to overcome the obstacles they face.”

The exhibit runs through March 16.