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Living reflections of spirit, soul, and freedom

Photo by Mary Knox Merrill

With drums and dance, a group of local performers brought to life a series of paintings by artist Joseph Holston documenting the history of slavery in America.

“These paintings have a spirit and a soul,” said Jacqui Parker, a Huntington Playwriting Fellow at the Huntington Theatre Company, who wrote and choreographed the theatrical performance, which drew as many as 100 attendees to Northeastern University’s Curry Student Center.

The exhibit, entitled “Color in Freedom: Journey Along The Underground Railroad,” will be on display Monday through Saturday, 10 am to 7 pm at Gallery 360 in Ell Hall, through August 18.

The celebration, presented by the University’s Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity, kicked off the exhibit. Holston, who works from his studio in Takoma Park, Md., is scheduled to visit Northeastern on Thursday, July 28.

Parker’s performance, which featured dancers, drummers and actors from her Our Place Theatre Project, was first set in Africa, “where we were kings and queens,” then transported the audience across the Middle Passage to America. The story weaved in well-known figures in history including Harriet Tubman, who led slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad, and Sojourner Truth, an abolitionist and women’s rights activist.

Parker said her inspiration for the one-night-only performance came from Holston’s colorful, evocative paintings: oversized canvases that capture the courage and determination of slaves who escaped their bonds and enhance the understanding of slavery and the instinct for freedom.

“I could have gone on and on,” Parker said, describing how she created a thirty-minute performance. “All his paintings moved me and it was very hard to decide what to incorporate.”

Naomi Thompson, the associate director of the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity, praised Parker as an “extraordinarily talented woman and a theatrical genius” who worked to make Holston’s paintings even more accessible.

“Her performance art brings to life something that is very important to our history and celebrates it,” Thompson explained.  The Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity extended invitations to the Tobin Community Center on Mission Hill, the Boston Police Department, Discover Roxbury and Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities — all local organizations that drew young Bostonians to Northeastern for the event.

“We’re really trying to get our youth to campus so they can see they are a part of this community and get them thinking about higher education — maybe even about coming here to Northeastern,” Thompson said.