There is a saying among church folk that without the test there is no testimony. Without tribulation — be it spiritual, mental or physical — there is no passage to the healing on the other side of the pain.
A fine art fair, dubbed Butter, starts Thursday and testifies itself to the beauty and value of Black art. Interestingly, the event will end Sunday with a 2 p.m. testimony service — a coming together in the tradition of the Black church (and even before) to speak out loud what has been going on in our souls. The new art show from cultural development firm Ganggang will be held inside the Stutz Business Center.
The service, to be led by Ebony Chappel and artist and business owner Sarah Hairston (aka Sarah J. in the City), offers a space for community members to share how 2020’s myriad challenges impacted their mental and spiritual health.
A view of ‘Butler’:Art fair showcases Black artists on Labor Day weekend
Chappel grew up in the church and recalled the encouragement that would flow when the elders stood in song and told the story of what God had brought them through.
“During the pandemic, I was going through a lot,” said Chappel, creator of the What’s Good? with Ebony Chappel video podcast. “One of the things I struggled with was how we were focused on everything dark.”
Things were indeed dark in 2020. COVID-19 ravaged Black and brown communities and laid bare disparities we face on every economic and social level. The murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd sent thousands into the streets across the country to testify the fact that Black lives matter.
But Chappel knew there was light in the midst of the darkest hour. And she saw the need, in the trauma and chaos, for beauty and peace.
“Hope and goodness are still important things to hold on to,” said Chappel. “I really think that they are the fuel.”
About four months ago, she approached Ganggang co-founder Malina Simone Jeffers with the idea.
“For me, having a Black art fair also includes moments of pause, moments of healing and even moments of testimony,” said Jeffers, who started Ganggang with Alan Bacon.
I practically grew up on a Detroit church pew and testimony was an integral part of the service. Testimony may not be as commonplace today in many churches, but it is deeply rooted in the Black experience. The telling of our story has its place in history long before even Nat Turner’s revolt prompted the forbidding of enslaved Africans from reading or writing.
And in the time since, testimonies were shared to leave future generations a road map and the “unvarnished, non-revisionist history of those who went through the struggle, and they left it, as best they could in song, in poetry,” said Lionel Rush, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Greater Indianapolis.
All were welcomed, whether from the cotton fields, the factories or later, the board room. All could experience the cathartic, healing power of a community gathered to hear and to bear witness.
“They were able to undo their burdens,” said Rush. “Anybody could come and express themselves, let people in the community know what’s going on,” with them and within their neighborhoods.
Telling stories of the Black experience in America is an act of resistance. Testimonies attest to the truth of what we saw, heard and experience despite the history of revision that tells us not to believe our ‘lying eyes.’ Did not Fredrick Douglass testify to the hypocrisy of our nation in What to the Slave is the 4th of July?
When we share what we saw and heard at the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, we testify to the fact that it was a hate-filled, racist, darned-near demonic attack, despite what some of our leaders try to tell us to the contrary.
Black folks were born into a test — our art, music, spoken word, faith, spirit dance are our testimony. And it has been our testimony that often saved our sanity and our history.
Chappel and others will gather Sunday to engage in the soul preserving, healing work of sharing their testimonies of overcoming in the midst of this stormy time in history.
They will end, said Chappel, with a call in unity: You made it. I made it. We made it together.
Contact IndyStar Opinion and Public Engagement Editor Ruby L. Bailey at RBailey@gannett.com.