Laura James God and Goddesses


Born and bred in Brooklyn, New York, Laura James is a self-taught painter of Antiguan heritage. Working as a professional artist and illustrator for almost twenty years, Ms. James is best known for her illustrations in the Book of the Gospels lectionary published in 2000 by LTP on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church. An award winning edition of the four gospels, it includes 34 paintings rendered in the Ethiopian Christian Art style which over the years Ms. James has made her own. The book is used worldwide by numerous Christian denominations and her religious art is at the forefront of the movement toward a more inclusive representation of Biblical figures. Ms. James has recently expanded her repertoire to include sacred images from other traditions including Buddhism, Yoruba, ancient Egyptian themes and Islam.
Laura James is also an award winning artist of secular works. She paints women, families, and scenes of everyday life; blending intricate patterns, text, vibrant colors and sometimes surreal imagery into what she calls “art for the people”.
Ms. James was honored by the College of New Rochelle’s Castle Gallery when they presented a retrospective exhibition of her work. 15 Years: The Art of Laura James featured over 80 religious and secular pieces that fully displayed her unique vision.
Laura is currently working on a series of paintings titled Nannies and Other Mothers where she attempts to shed light on a subject long neglected by popular culture. She tells the stories of countless women who leave their families to come to America, UK, or Canada in search of a better life, taking jobs as domestic workers. “Although Caribbean people are intimately familiar with the subject, we never talk about it.” With this work Ms. James is trying to start the conversation.
Laura’s work is widely collected and exhibited. Represented by Bridgeman Art Library for more than a decade, her images have been published in numerous publications and media. Interested in introducing art to young audiences, Laura has also presented many workshops for children at sites including the African Burial Ground and the Museum of the Bible in the Arts. Now working and residing in the Bronx Ms. James is a member of several art organizations, is very active in her community and has produced numerous cultural events, art exhibitions and film festivals.

“The highest honor an artist can receive is to have their art used in worship,” explains Lara. He points out the Roman Catholic Church’s “Book of the Gospels” is carried in procession by a deacon and incensed during worship.
“Her women are full-breasted, of solid build, spirited, and sexual. Identified within biblical or contemporary narratives, James’s women are leaders in the home, workplace, and community. Their activities extend beyond those usually associated with women of a particular experience: they fly, lay on beaches, swing, and entertain. In leisure time scenes, romantic encounters, and portraits, James depicts her feminine subjects in the world in which she and other women like her live. Her attention to the many frames of a woman’s life are likened to artists Leonor Fini and Faith Ringgold (1930-).”

– Contemporary Images, Ancient Traditions: The Art of Laura James April 2004


I was brought up going to church with my family, a denomination called “Brethren”. For lack of a better word, the church was “dull”; no art, very solemn music and even though everyone there was Black it almost seemed anti-African. I would sit there and read the Bible stories. Although we were not supposed to consider images of Biblical personages there were pictures in the children’s Bible we read every Sunday. My sisters and I also had a big book of Bible stories where everyone was sort of a yellow ochre color, except for the blond and blue-eyed Jesus and servants who were grey and strangely apelike. Even then I recognized that this was a racist depiction.
In 1991 I was introduced to Ethiopia by friends who were Rastafarians from Jamaica and was impressed with the fact that it was the only African state that had never been colonized and with its history of being a Christian country since the 4th century. I’d never heard of anything like this, like many others I was told that Christianity was forced on Africans by white missionaries. In any case, Ethiopia just seemed fascinating to me; authentic African Christianity is how I saw it. I saw myself.
Since I was learning about Ethiopia and collecting books, videos, and other information, I was very excited to see a book titled Ethiopian Magic Scrolls in the window of a botanica in my Brooklyn neighborhood. I was attracted to the eyes and the red, gold, and green colors. The art was very detailed yet simple; it was beautiful and really stood out on this crowded street. I was compelled to buy it.
I read in this book that these particular images where passed down from time immemorial, brought down by the angels themselves, and were copied in the same way by religious lay men connected to a church. I decided to make a painting of 9 Guardian Angels using pieces of images I saw there. I didn’t copy them exactly; I thought my painting was good, so I went in search of more Ethiopian Art. I then painted Bible stories that I never saw in my source material. I painted a series of Ethiopian saints, hoping to introduce Ethiopian history to people who might not have known about it otherwise.
Now, twenty years later, I have begun to paint images from other sacred traditions, including Buddhism, Islam, Egyptian and deities of West Africa. I am constantly challenged to express myself perfectly through my work as an artist and for that I am grateful.

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