BAIA BITS: Maya Angelou And John Biggers “Our Grandmothers”

Little Moments Where Knowledge Meets Art


Our Grandmothers by John Biggers. One of the original drawing that inspired the lithograph prints.

She stands
before the abortion clinic,
confounded by the lack of choices.
In the Welfare line,
reduced to the pity of handouts.
Ordained in the pulpit, shielded
by the mysteries.
In the operating room,
husbanding life.
In the choir loft,
holding God in her throat.
On lonely street corners,
hawking her body.
In the classroom, loving the
children to understanding.

Centered on the world’s stage,
she sings to her loves and beloveds,
to her foes and detractors:
However I am perceived and deceived,
however my ignorance and conceits,
lay aside your fears that I will be undone,

for I shall not be moved.

–Maya Angelou, Last stanzas from “Our Grandmothers”   first published in I Shall Not Be Moved, 1990.

Perhaps the only thing more stunning than the rich lithographic work of John Biggers is the rich lithographic work of John Biggers coupled with the mesmerizing poetry of Maya Angelou.  In 1994, Angelou requested that the iconic Biggers, her favorite artist, provide the illustrations for her poem “Our Grandmothers” in a Limited Editions Club publication.  Only 400 numbered copies of the large format book were made available, signed by both author and artist.  For the project, Biggers produced five now legendary lithographs reflecting the African Diaspora, merging the African experience with its involuntary reincarnation in America, and merging myth with contemporary reality.

Fortunately, for the sake of art and history, “Our Grandmothers” further merged the melodious words of a master poet with the awe-inspiring work of a master printmaker and muralist.  Said Angelou of Biggers, in a quote published by the Washington Post upon his January 2001 death, his art “functions as delight and discovery.  He sees our differences and celebrates them.  And in so doing, he allows the clans of the world to come together in respectful appreciation.”

Our Grandmothers series by John Biggers. Original drawings that inspired the lithograph prints

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