Black Christ, by Auseklis Ozols, 1991.
This is a detail of the figure from Ozols’ monumental mural at St Rose de Lima Church in Bay St Louis, MS. The ascending figure depicts the hope of resurrection and new life.
This work celebrates the duality of life and death as well as suffering and peace- through the arrangement of familiar imagery. The imagery both occupies and transcends religious affiliation, place, and even race through a universal understanding of pain and the desire to escape it.
Ozols painted the Christ figure in heroic proportion, a compositional device historically reserved for depictions of important figures, and very rarely used for the representations of blacks, especially in coastal Mississippi.
The heroic figure is rising, larger than life size, in front of a live oak tree. The oak tree is a symbol of strength, everlasting life, perseverance and stability. Conversely, the same tree was also used for countless lynchings of black Americans in the south, and so occupies a double meaning in this painting. A second double symbol is the pose, as it can be perceived as both a resurrection and crucifixion.
The mural celebrates the circle of life and death, incorporating the depiction of a heroic black figure rising upward in front of yet another symbol of strength.
From the Church’s website:
The focal point of the sanctuary is a powerful mural, designed by New Orleans artist Auseklis Ozols and dating to the 1991 Renovation, that covers the wall behind the altar. Representing both the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, it features a strongly realistic Christ of mixed heritage. Behind him, but draped in an early morning fog, is an equally realistic ancient live oak tree with its Spanish moss and century plants. Christ wears a cloth trimmed in Kente cloth. The figure of Christ floats…free of bonds and burdens of this earth…” before a huge oak tree, “the Cross… grasping the ground with ample roots yet reaching up toward the heavens…”and the names of parishioners’ families are painted at the sides. Thus, the mural portrays the congregation’s pride in its personal heritages as well as the Christian tradition.