Charmaine Minniefield:
Indigo Prayers: A Creation Story

Inside the John Howett Works on Paper Gallery at Emory University’s Michael C. Carlos Museum, Indigo Prayers: A Creation Story [March 19–September 11, 2022], Charmaine Minniefield’s solo exhibition presents histories of Black joy and resistance, physically manifested through the Black women who grace her canvases. A sense of movement is central to each of the seven floor-to-ceiling works—seven, the number of completion in Christianity and many non-Western belief systems—each of which captures different aspects of an intricately choreographed dance and tells different parts of one story. In six of the works, a single woman in a ruffled white dress common in the African diaspora is depicted in motion. She assumes gestural postures that convey a range of strong emotions including humility, piety, and rapture. 

Unstretched canvas with an abstracted figure in a blue dress with black arms and black hair.

Charmaine Minniefield, Sovereign, 2021, indigo, crushed oyster on canvas, mahogany bark [courtesy of the artist and the Michael C. Carlos Museum]

Unstretched canvas depicting a figure turned away from viewer in a white dress with outstretched arms above her head.

Charmaine Minniefield, Wisdom, 2021, indigo and crushed oyster on canvas [courtesy of the artist and the Michael C. Carlos Museum]

The works (all 2020) lend the space a feeling like that of witnessing a worship ceremony, and the works’ titles—Sovereign and Wisdom, for example—support this sentiment. Eternal, my favorite work in the show, depicts a group of women positioned closely together. They wear traditional white dresses, with layers of delicate fabric, and headpieces similar to the Nigerian gèle. For me, this work evokes the communal nature of womanhood and the feminine power in each of us as individuals that is heightened through our collective identities. 

Rhythmic, full-bodied prayer inspired Minniefield’s grandmother, as well as the works in Indigo Prayers, and the practice is rooted in the spiritual histories of African diasporic people. I felt moved by knowing that these dances were performed as a divine connection—a method of sharing stories that might otherwise have been forgotten over time and spatial boundaries. I felt proud to be part of a lineage that conjured rituals for bodily communication with the universe, whether humbly bowed and connected, as shown in Freedom, or extended and longing, as shown in Abundant. 

Minniefield’s unstretched canvasses, with their frayed edges, feel familiar and offer some sense of ruggedness that speaks to the urgency of her subject. Stretching and wrapping the material would constrain the subjects’ kineticism. Unstretched, the canvas allows—even extends—the bodily movements that cannot be contained. The various shades of blue, indigo being but one, honor the enslaved people who once harvested the plant—once one of the premier cash crops of South Carolina. The hands of the women whom Minniefield resurrects through these works might have been stained with indigo by its grueling harvesting process, done to the benefit of others. In Indigo Prayers: A Creation Story, the artist liberates those hands for purposes more jubilant, visceral, and stirring. 

Unstretched canvas depicting multiple abstracted figures in blue dresses and blue headwear with arms holding out to one another.

Charmaine Minniefield, Eternal, 2021, indigo on canvas [courtesy of the artist and the Michael C. Carlos Museum]

Unstreched canvas with a figure in a white dress bending over with their eyes on the ground and their arms holding their stomach.

Charmaine Minniefield, Freedom, 2020, indigo and crushed oyster on canvas [courtesy of the artist and the Michael C. Carlos Museum] 

Tyra A. Seals is a Black art historian and creative communications professional, focused on how diverse audiences engage with art and culture. Seals has written for and worked alongside various entities including the Speed Art Museum, Scalawag Magazine, and the Cleveland Museum of Art. Dedicated to using her love of language to help brands reach their full potential, she founded her editorial agency Typology in August 2020; her clients have included Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, Streamlined Media, and Artsy, Inc. Seals is a proud Atlanta native and graduated cum laude from Spelman College in 2018.