Artist Gilbert Fletcher stands in front of one of his paintings.
Artist Gilbert Fletcher will present "Painted Voices and the Creative Struggle for the Souls of Black Folk" for the seventh annual Robert L. Polk Lectureship at 7 p.m., Tuesday, April 5. Fifteen of Fletcher's paintings from his series, "Painted Voices: An Artist’s Journey into the World of Black Writers," will also be shown in Doane University's Rall Art Gallery from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. April 4 and 5.

Doane University welcomes artist Gilbert Fletcher as the guest speaker for the university’s seventh annual Robert L. Polk Lectureship on Race and Social Justice. Fletcher will present his lecture, “Painted Voices and the Creative Struggle for the Souls of Black Folk,” at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 5, 2022 in Heckman Auditorium inside the Communications Building on the university’s Crete campus. The event is free and open to the public.

The lecture will be followed by a Q&A session with the artist, and conclude with a reception located outside the auditorium in the Great Hall and Rall Art Gallery. The reception is sponsored by the Blue River Valley Arts Council, with light snacks and beverages available for participants.

Additionally, 15 of Fletcher’s oil paintings from his series “Painted Voices: An Artist’s Journey into the World of Black Writers” will be on display in the Rall Gallery from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, April 4 through Tuesday, April 5.

“We live in a society where voice and representation matter, and not only is Gilbert himself a successful and amazing artist, but the paintings he has created call attention to the narratives written and witnessed by dozens of great African American writers,” said Dr. Marilyn Johnson-Farr, Dwight Porter professor of education and Polk Lectureship committee chair. “Using his art as a lens during this year’s Polk Lectureship, we can examine not only the history of efforts to dismantle racism, but, more importantly, engage in dialogue and action to confront it.”

Fletcher is a native of New Orleans and currently lives in New York City. He is known for his New Orleans neighborhood house paintings, the “Painted Voices” series, and documenting the “Creoles of Cane River.” Fletcher has exhibited widely in museums, galleries and university galleries around the United States, as well as in France and Ghana.

“A creative dialogue has always been at play with artists and writers to document our history and the profound message as to how to survive in this land we call home,” Fletcher said. “My lecture will explore and discuss how social issues we are faced with in everyday life have a direct effect on the creative process of Black artists.”

In full, his “Painted Voices” series features 30 portraits of celebrated African American writers. The 15 writers featured for Doane’s exhibition are Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Amiri Baraka, Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Rita Dove, Audre Lorde, Jamaica Kinkaid, Toni Morrison, Wole Soyinka, Alice Walker, August Wilson, John Edgar Wideman and Richard Wright.

Gilbert Fletcher's oil painting of Ralph Ellison, author of "Invisible Man."
Fletcher's portrait of author Ralph Ellison, known for the novel "Invisible Man," is one of 15 oil paintings from Fletcher's series, "Painted Voices: An Artist’s Journey into the World of Black Writers,” which will be displayed in the Rall Art Gallery April 4 and 5. 

Fletcher was inspired to create the series after reading many of the books written by the authors listed above, as well as many other Black writers. The stories they wrote led him to wonder about their creative processes, their habits to gain ideas, and how they dealt with difficult subjects, such as slavery, oppression, segregation, police brutality, social injustice and racism.

“As a visual artist, I am faced with juggling the content and ideas of my art to make it more acceptable to this America we live in, or do I let my art reflect the anger I feel at times, and the hate I see reported daily in the news,” Fletcher said.

The Polk Lectureship is one of the avenues by which the Doane community has important discussions surrounding race, racial healing and racial equity.

“Every lectureship is a celebration of Dr. Bob Polk’s enduring impact on our communities, and I’m deeply grateful that Mr. Fletcher will join us in elevating Dr. Polk’s vision of a world with more racial harmony and equity,” said Luis Sotelo, vice president for the division of diversity, equity and inclusion.


About the Polk Lectureship

The Robert L. Polk Lectureship on Race and Social Justice, established by Rev. Dr. Robert L. Polk ‘52, the first Black American to earn a degree from Doane College, supports public and candid conversations about current social issues and race across the world. Inspired by Rev. Polk’s career of building bridges and challenging the barriers between races and cultures, the goal of the lecture is to provide an avenue by which important discussions surrounding race, including racial healing and racial equity, can be established and sustained. The lecture enables students, faculty, staff and guests to hear from high-impact speakers in the fields of diversity, equity and social justice.

“Racism continues to be the scourge that scars our humanity and the landscape of our society. What we need in every sector of our society is a more meaningful conversation and an in-depth dialogue on race before we can truly become a whole people. It is the hope that this series of lectures can perhaps move participants towards greater racial harmony and racial equity,” Polk says.

Past series lectures have included “The Status of African Americans, Then and Now, What has Changed” by Dr. Glenn Mitchell in 2021; “You Belong Here” by Rachel D. Fox in 2020; “My Living Shall not be in Vain” by Dr. Tommie Lindsey in 2019; “Time’s Up: Who’s Watching the Clock” by Maurice Watson in 2018; “The Trojan Horse of the Civil Rights Movement” by David J. Dennis, Sr. in 2017; and “Why Race Still Matters” by Robert Polk in 2016.

To contribute to the Polk Lectureship please contact Julie Rasgorshek, annual fund director, at [email protected] or by calling 402-826-8561.