Jamea Richmond-Edwards’ Ancient Future: Mythology and Memory Adorn Her Work

Following several years in Washington, D.C., artist Jamea Richmond-Edwards returned home to Detroit. After being away for some time, she committed to taking regular walks downtown to reconnect with her city. Richmond-Edwards trekked pavements traced by distant ancestors, Motown legends and countless Black Americans who moved north from the South in waves of the Great Migration. Her walking rekindled a knowing long forgotten. Her steps ignited the extraordinary themes of self-love, discovery and liberation embedded in the fabric of Ancient Future on view now at MOCA North Miami.

Upon returning to Detroit, Jamea Richmond-Edwards experienced visions of serpentine impressions streaming from her consciousness. She discovered her visions were actually reflections of her environment coupled with past memories. “I never thought about dragons before,” Richmond-Edwards said. “I wasn’t a kid that was into dragons, but as I was walking downtown Detroit, I noticed dragons in the architecture. If dragons are all through Detroit, I need to take ownership of this mythos.” 

In pursuit of the dragon, Richmond-Edwards uncovered novel connections between herself and dragons. She intertwines her personal history with historical and mythological themes to expose the fantastic legacy of Black power.

Left to right: Lullaby for Shooting Star (diptych), 2023
acrylic, gold leaf, glitter, mixed media collage and soft sculpture on canvas 
96 x 144 in. overall
Courtesy Kravets Wehby Gallery. Collection Scott R. Coleman | March of the Nagas, 2023
Acrylic, silver leaf, rhinestones, glitter, mixed media collage and soft sculpture on canvas 
72 X 72 in.
Courtesy the artist and Kravets Wehby Gallery

In the article, What is Memory, science educator Kendra Cherry identifies memory as “the psychological processes of acquiring, storing, retaining, and later retrieving information.” Conceptualizing and producing the monumental anchor pieces for Ancient Futures, Dark Night of the Soul and Lullaby for Shooting Star are the culmination of memories drawn into Richmond-Edward’s consciousness spanning “billions of years.” 

Richmond-Edwards continued, “We have genetic memory. Since I’ve been home, I’ve been getting these memories and have been intentional about remembering.”

Personal and ancestral memory act as the primary source for the conceptual framework of each piece. Her color palette draws from shades of organic browns to black and is juxtaposed with electric blue, yellow and orange. Collage, ink, acrylic, glitter and rhinestones embellish the figures in magnificent honor.

Lullaby for Shooting Star is inspired by Shawnee chief and warrior Tecumseh, also known as Shooting Star. His birth is said to have occurred in conjunction with a shooting star. He spent much of his life campaigning for Native American unification and battling European settlers. Jamea Richmond-Edwards revealed that comets or shooting stars were once known as dragons. Taking agency of this narrative, the artist inserts her own mythology, where each element is saturated with meaning. 

Two self-portrait figures flank a golden pyramid. The figure on the left is rendered in dark ink and faces the viewer. The other is seated on a fiery, pink Eastern-style dragon. She wears vibrant colors and holds a conch shell horn to her mouth. The dragon’s tail loosely clasps a tower at the feet of her reflection. Between them is a fantastic scene marked by a procession of illuminated figures and white horses. They move through separated waters from “shadow Jamea” to “Jamea and the dragon.” Out from the waters, two raised hands reach upwards towards the heavens, where comets soar to the firmament below. Small, iridescent, serpentine-shaped, soft sculptures adorn the frame around the two “Jamea” figures. 

Feature image: Dark Night of the Soul, 2023
acrylic, gold leaf, glitter, mixed media collage and soft sculpture on canvas
96 x 360 in. overall
Courtesy the artist and Kravets Wehby Gallery

The narrative of Lullaby for Shooting Star exemplifies the essence of Ancient Futures. Richmond-Edwards represents herself in stages of consciousness. Her past confronts her future. The space in between depicts experiences, historical references, thoughts and ideas that have influenced her evolution. The figures in the procession are her awakened ancestral memories, stirred by the voice of her higher self blowing into the horn, drawing them into awareness. In mysticism, the tower is associated with change, higher learning and liberation. The dragon intentionally braces the tower. 

Richmond-Edwards explained, “The dragon represents ancient primordial memories, that DNA, the ancestry I’m sitting on. I’m blowing this horn to awaken and remember.” Visually, Lullaby for Shooting Star is vibrant with playful colors. Delicate paper, glitter and gold adorn visual representations of a spiritual awakening. 

Dark Night of the Soul is a massive extension and companion to Lullaby for Shooting Star. The pentaptych measures eight by 30 feet. A stark, yellow sunburst commands attention at the front and center. A figure poised on a mountaintop exalts the sun with a raised hand. A cluster of worshipers follow suit a register below. Extended to the furthest point of the pentaptych, on one side is a self-portrait of Jamea Richmond-Edwards, on the other is a portrait of her eldest son. A dragon sits at the crown of her head, its serpentine body winds through the expanse of the painting. The dragon’s tail grips the neck of Richmond-Edward’s portrait of her son.

Between mother and son are multidimensional realms, a physical world and the ether. The sun and worshippers are in the world. Rendered in the ether are the portraits of Richmond-Edwards and her son. Flanking the firmament are two reclined self-portraits of the artist fixed both in and out of the world. Each has a direct-line connection to their respective heads, one to Richmond-Edwards, one to her son. The dragon’s serpentine body swoops around the outer space realm.

Much like Lullaby for Shooting Star, Dark Night of the Soul is a stage of awareness in Jamea Richmond-Edwards spiritual development. It harnesses the grandeur of her maternal legacy. As a mother, the power of her genetic memory reaches her son. The head of the dragon is with her, but the tail extends to her descendant. The light of the sun is worthy of worship, as is the love of a mother towards her offspring.

“With the exhibit titled Ancient Future, I must include the primordial mother or mother universe,” she said. “Understanding our way out of this is understanding the Divine Mother. If we are going to talk about beginnings and time, we have to talk about mother and child.”  

From left to right: Mother and Child, 2023
Acrylic, gold leaf, glitter, mixed media collage and soft sculpture on canvas
46 x 46 in
Courtesy the artist and Kravets Wehby Gallery | A Girl and her Unicorn, 2023
Acrylic, gold leaf, glitter, mixed media collage and soft sculpture on canvas
46 x 46 in.
Courtesy the artist and Kravets Wehby Gallery | The Man, The Myth, The Legend, 2023
Acrylic, rhinestones, glitter, mixed media collage and soft sculpture on canvas 
46 x 46 in. 
Courtesy the artist and Kravets Wehby Gallery

Eight out of ten paintings in Ancient Future include self-portraits of Richmond-Edwards. She inserts herself in the most ordinary to extraordinary settings. The Prettiest Dress features the artist in the foreground poised in a layered, ruffled dress made of printed fabrics with a dynamic background of colorful, paper collage. 

A Girl and her Unicorn depicts a self-portrait of the artist standing on a crescent object, sporting a cloak over a floral gown. A rearing, white unicorn is at her side. The landscape is neon pink, orange, blue and purple. In the background is a sparkling, golden pyramid. Like other work in the Ancient Future series, small colorful circles adorn various spaces on the canvas, perhaps serving as magic particles in her creations. 

Portraits of her son appear in Mother and Child and The Man, The Myth, The Legend. The canvas orientation in both paintings is positioned in a rhombus shape. This geometry emphasizes the head or crowns of the figures, furthering her theme of spiritual awakening and genetic connections. Ancient Future is a tidal wave in the vast ocean of Jamea Richmond-Edwards’ acumen and artistic capacity. Her artistic voice ranges from a loud cry in the massive work Dark Night of the Soul, to a gentle whisper in the Unraveling, a suite of small drawings. Harmoniously, each brushstroke, each application of paper or ink is in service to awakening and transformation … to freedom.

“Liberation comes through our stories, the possibilities and multiplicities of us … we are the creators, you have to recognize yourself as the creator first,” Richmond-Edwards said. “When Gill Scott-Heron said, ‘The revolution will not be televised,’ I didn’t know what that meant, but he meant, ‘It is happening in the mind.’ And what I have been doing is writing myself as the heroine in my story. It has freed me.”

Jamea Richmond-Edwards: Ancient Future at MOCA North Miami runs through March 17, 2024.

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