Lockard, a native Detroiter, was born during the Great Depression. His parents, migrating from the agricultural environs of Arkansas and Mississippi, joined the many thousands of Southerners who in their search for greater economic security, settled in the ever-growing Motor City. The rhythms and textures of life in the African American community that enculturated the youthful Lockard grew out of the creative response of the Southern born migrants to the social, political, and economic realities of living in the urban industrial Midwest. Reminiscing about his youth and young adult life, the artist recalls that the beauty, indomitable spirit, and dignity of his community reflected itself, for example, in the: incomparable music of Dorothy Ashby, Washboard Willie, Kenny Burrell, Alice Coltrane, Sir Roland Hannah, Barry Harris and Yusef Lateef; the athletic prowess of heavy-weight champion Joe Louis, the audacity of boxer Lester Felton, and the adroitness of Sugar Ray Robinson; the spiritual guidance of dynamic Ministers Elder Morton, Rev. C.L. Franklin, and even the ostentatious Prophet Jones. The vibrance of Lockard's Community, as he remembers it, could be seen in the colorful (and often amusing) lives of the factory workers, insurance agents, streetcar operators, barbers and beauticians, secretaries, undertakers, doctors, domestics, teachers, lawyers, sign painters, and many others who populated the community.
However, picturesque and vibrant African American life may have been between the depression of the 1930s and the intense social unrest 1960s, all was not well. Many experienced economic hardships and social repression. Lockard especially remembers that the constraining forces inherent in the society's racial caste system also beseiged his community in Detroit. And so too, his community nurtured many revitalizationist responses that became part of a tradition of political/social activism. As a child, Lockard revered "the old Garveyites" of the Universal Negro Improvement Association who preached the message of Africa's redemption. During his childhood he also heard the "separatist" philosophy and observed the self-determining effors of the Lost/Found Nation of Islam in the Wilderness of North America led by Elijah Muhammed. As a youth Lockard developed an awareness of the equality of opportunity platforms of The National Urban League and The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The latter organization rallied support for O.H. Sweet, a physician whose armed defense of his home against an angry European American mob in 1925 formed a significant part of African American community lore in the 1930s. That this body of lore became chiseled into the artist's consciousness is not surprising; the Lockard family home was near the vicinity of the harrowing interracial incident. Between two notable Detroit based "race riots," that of the early 1940s when Lockard was ten years of age and that of the late 1960s when he was thirty-five, the artist witnesssed a quarter century of growth in the community's tradition of political/social activism. Such organized responses by the African American Detroiters to the society's racial caste restrictions, according to the artist, also reflected the beauty, indomitable spirit, and dignity of his people.
The dynamics of African American urban life and a keen awareness of the significance of political struggle became indelibly etched in Lockard's worldview. And from this worldview his sense of artistic mission began to take shape. Underscoring the enduring linkage between history, culture, and aesthetics, Lockard comments: "all art propagates and perpetuates...the dynamics of a people, their ideals, religions, their successes and ...failures, their beauty and even their foolishness." More emphatically, he declares: "I believe we must recognize the past, function in the present and prepare for the future...at the same time. I believe we must rediscover and record the role of our people in American and world history." Ever aware of the need for firm footing in his role as a commentator, a chronicler, a visual communicator, Lockard remarks: "I try not to allow my insatiable urge toward adventure in color, space and form to mysticize reality."
The proclamation, "We are an African people!", which gained popularity in the 1960s, signaled that many were not altogether content with an ethnic (or more correctly, racial) designation--whether colored, Negro, or black, based simply on phenotypic attributes. Lockard, perceiving the significance of ethnic self-designation as a reflection of cultural and /or geographic origins, created works of art as vehicles for exploring identity. With continued study he learned that an often disguised, yet pervasive Africanity (or Africaness) extant in inheritance from his southern forebears. Moreover, his wide ranging travels throughout Africa, North America, South America, and the Caribbean gave greater depth to Lockard's understanding and appreciation of the cultural linkages that bond the diverse people of the ancestral continent and the people of the diaspora to each other. Indeed, Lockard affirms: "The artist in American Society must establish an educational frame of reference that is African/Black [i.e. Afrocentric] to maintain his sanity and maximum productivity if he is to survive and grow." He continues by noting, "This is not to say that the artist must also be a conventional scholar, but it does suggest the necessity of the artist's direction being based on sound information."
The Art of Jon Onye Lockard amplifies the often
quoted folk wisdom of elderly African americans who remind us: " You don't
know where you're going, if you don't know where you've been." That
heritage and destiny are inextricably linked is a perspective not only
indigenous to the African American community, but ultimately traceable
to prototypical philosphical tradtions in Africa. Among the
Akan of Ghana, for example, Sankofa--the image of a bird with a "back-turned"
head, symbolically alludes to the supreme wisdom of learning from the yesterdays
of culture history in building the bright tomorrow of the future.
Lockard's art transports us across time and space. Without question
his subjects are diverse. But when placed in juxtaposition, the images
reveal facets of a complex and continuing saga. Our ability to comprehend
and appreciate Lockard's art is a fundamental test of our own cultural
literacy. Suffice it to say, his oeuvre offers didactic views on
a past filled with glorious moments, a present shaped by victories over
victimization, and visions of a destiny yet to be achieved.
Bamidele Agbasegbe Demerson
|Second Picture: Jon Onye Lockard reflects on two other pieces of art as he paints a portrait of a young girl.|
|Third Picture: Professor Lockard leads his class(from University of Michigan) through the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores during the 1997 Univeristy of Michigan African American Art course Dialogue for "In The Spirit of Resistance(En El Espiritu De La Resistencia)" African American Modernists and La Escuela Muralista Mexicana.|
|Fourth Picture: Lockard provides words of wisdom to an onlooker who stop to marvel at his work during the 1998 National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta, Georgia.|