McKissick Museum

of the University of South Carolina

Columbia, SC



The Middle Passage: Drawings by Tom Feelings

March 12 - December 3, 2000


"The Middle Passage: Drawings by Tom Feelings" features 52 pen-and-ink and tempera drawings on rice paper, that were used in Feelings' 1995 book, "The Middle Passage: White Ships/Black Cargo," along with three sculptures and one textile scrim.

Feelings began writing "The Middle Passage," a picture book, in 1974, as a personal odyssey that began when he was living in Ghana in 1964. The illustrations are black and white with cool blue and warm brown tones, and they blend abstract and realistic images to make readers feel as if they are aboard a slave-trading ship. The drawings aim to capture the reader into the suffering and desperation of the slaves.

The first drawings in Feelings' wordless story are peaceful and show the pride of Africans in their homeland. But the scenes quickly turn to attacks on villages and long lines of Africans roped together and being led to the ships.

In its abstract and monochromatic drawings, "The Middle Passage" includes violent concepts, including whippings and rapes.

Feelings, a retired USC art professor, has focused on African culture and the black American experience throughout his career. For more than 20 years, he has written award-winning children's books, including "Soul Looks Back in Wonder." This book's art was exhibited at the Shomburg Center for Black Culture in New York City and includes original poems from Maya Angelou and Margaret Walker, as well as a previously unpublished poem by Langston Hughes. Feelings collaborated with Angelou on another of his books, "Sheba Sings the Song."

Feelings was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y. He attended the School of the Visual Arts and later lived in Ghana and Guyana. He is the recipient of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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