Naming Balm

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The title for our next exhibit is inspired by the spiritual, “Balm in Gilead.” Arranged by H. T. Burleigh, this composition is a staple of the Black spiritual tradition which built on the text from Jeremiah 8:22 of the Bible, “Is there no balm in Gilead?” One interpretation of the Old Testament scripture portrays a world where Jeremiah laments his people’s rejection of God.  Yet the lyrics for “Balm in Gilead” bridges the Old Testament with the New Testament focus on Jesus of Nazareth.

There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul

Sometimes I feel discouraged,
and think my work’s in vain,
but then the Holy Spirit
revives my soul again.


If you can’t preach like Peter
If you can’t be pray like Paul
Go home and tell your neighbor
He died to save us all.


“Balm in Gilead” breaks from the ironic question of whether God is present to declare in the affirmative that God is present and will heal those who seek God. This song, within the context of the Black experience in America, reveals a space where suffering under systemic racism and violence can be alleviated. Like medicine, a person can be healed and “revived” for the ongoing struggle for justice.

While the Black artist might find healing in worshipping Jesus, this exhibit focuses on how we find renewal in the struggle for social equality or racial equity. That could be through faith, through song, through meditation, through study, through creative expression, or any number of methods. For some, art-making itself is a way to experience healing. The visual artist may access the healing power of the divine in the iterative process of painting. The audience may experience it when immersed in the world the artist created. However we may experience healing, the balm is necessary to continue the journey toward freedom for all and Black liberation in particular. Our hope is that the inspired works that will adorn the walls of our gallery inspires healing in your journey.


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