World Premiere of "How Long Not Long"

February 13, 2015

Synthia Saint James

Simmons is proud to host the premiere of Synthia Saint James's painting "How Long Not Long."

On March 25, 2015, the nation will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March.

Simmons College is proud to host the world premiere of Synthia Saint James’s painting “How Long Not Long,” which commemorates this historic occasion. As part of the Eileen Friars Leader-in-Residence program, Saint James will also be joining three prominent African American female leaders for a public discussion of art, media and politics on March 25th.

The College of Arts and Sciences spoke with Synthia Saint James about the meaning of “How Long Not Long.”

On March 25, 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his supporters had completed the march from Selma to Montgomery as part of the Selma Voting Rights Movement. What did it mean to you then as a teenager, and does it mean anything different to you now?
Growing up as a teenager during the turbulent years of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960's was often terrifying, even though I was raised in Los Angeles and New York. We were well aware of the horrors faced daily, especially in Southern states. So at first I was relieved that the march was non-violent and successful, and then I felt so very proud of Dr. King and every single person that risked their lives for the cause.

Today, looking back to almost 50 years ago, I'm filled with even more pride, and the need and desire to celebrate the anniversary.

How does your work, "How Long Not Long" commemorate this event, and why is it important to remember this march?
My painting, "How Long Not Long" contains elements of what the march looked like in 1965 coupled with what it will look like on March 25th, including generations of families marching together (i.e., grandfathers/mothers, sons/daughters, grandsons/granddaughters).

It's so important to not only remember the march, but to teach the younger generations about what African Americans and others went through and sacrificed to achieve the right to vote.

Dr. King says in his speech, "'How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.'" It's hard to think about 2014/2015 and not picture the arc as more of a jagged series of steps forward and back. Are we still bending towards justice?
I feel that we are still bending toward justice because of the many powerful steps that have been made, including having an African American President for two consecutive terms of office. But it is a constant battle. When we look at the many social injustices, [we see] the need to continue to march, protest and demonstrate just to have our voices heard and to keep our civil rights.

Is art important in the fight towards moral justice, and if so, why?
Yes, it's very important. Art serves to not only to document history, but depending on the theme of the artwork, it can encourage change for the good -- toward moral justice.

What do you hope that viewers of "How Long Not Long" will see when they look at this painting in particular?
In my painting, "How Long Not Long," my hope is that the viewers will see and feel the powerful strength and unity of the multicultural people depicted, of all ages and religious faiths, as they proudly march together for the good of all man and womankind.

Join Synthia Saint James, Karen Holmes Ward (Executive Producer, CityLine), Stacey Barney (Senior Editor, Penguin Random House) and Lisa Simmons (Founder, The Color of Film Collaborative and Roxbury International Film Festival) for a panel discussion on art, media and politics on March 25, 2015 at 6pm. Moderated by the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Renée T. White.