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Lesson Plans

The Web of Life: The Art of John Biggers

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Nancy Walkup (walkup)
Mon, 1 Dec 1997 10:59:36 CST6CDT

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Dear ArtsEdNetters:

I hope you are all recovered from eating too much and are back at
work. I have some responses from John Biggers to share with you.
And, for those of you in the Houston, Texas, area, a note of
interest - Biggers is now in the process of completing a new mural
at the downtown University of Houston campus.


How do you develop your symbols and how can teachers encourage
students to develop their own?

Biggers' Response:

"Every culture has its symbols - you must search for them - use
a library, books - read! There is no end of symbols - symbols
that have meaning. For instance, the swastika is the
ancient African symbol for the sun. The symbol had other
meanings before Hitler appropriated it [in Native American
culture it may have symbolized the sun or the four winds or four
directions. The white birds in the sky in "Shotguns, Third
Ward" and the quilt patterns in the sky in "Starry Crown" are
both suggestive of the swastika.]

Question (again, please forgive paraphrasing):

Why do your works show Christian and African influences?

Biggers' Response:

"I was raised in a Christian family - my father was a preacher
and we had daily bible readings. The preachers in church talked
about Africa in their sermons - all these experiences led me to
search for my roots - both African and Christian."

There had been some questions about the meaning of symbols in
Biggers' work, especially in "The Holy Family" (not on the site)
and similar works, "The House My Father Built and "Three
Generations" (both on the web site). In these works, taut strings
connect figures that appear to represent families.


What is the meaning of the artworks that show figures connected
by strings?

Biggers' Response:

"The figures are deliberately ambiguous - the child comes from
the Holy Family - the strings represent communication and
connectedness. The woman is the waever of the spoken word in
ancient cultures - a weaver of life - a weaver of words."

"The families shown in these works do not necessarily include
the birth mother - they may be an aunt, a sister. The
family is the sacred unit of those who care about the child. I
believe that every family is a holy family and I don't think
there is just one. All families are sacred and the family unit
is not just a two by two system; it is all those who touch and
care for that child."

Biggers is greatly enjoying this process of exploring his work.
I am happy to convey any comments or questions you have that
develop from "The Web of Life."


Nancy Walkup, Project Coordinator
North Texas Institute for Educators on the Visual Arts
PO Box 305100, University of North Texas
Denton, TX 76203
940/565-3986 FAX 940/565-4867

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