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Meditations: Season 1 Intro

A MOCRA Voices series focusing on Black creative expression, abstraction and spirituality

Release date: July 21, 2023

“Meditations: Black Expression, Abstraction, and the Spirit” explores the intersection of spirituality and the artistic practice of Black creatives encountering ideas within the wide lexicon of abstraction. The series takes inspiration from the final panel in artist Frederick J. Brown’s five-painting work Life of Christ Altarpiece. Brown’s portrayal of The Descent into Hell is an abstracted meditation on the spiritual and emotional sublime within lived experience.  

At left, a tall vertical abstract painting featuring energetic splashes of reds, yellows, whites, greens, and blues erupting over a bruised purple-black background. At right, the reverse side of the same painting with the wooden stretcher visible and the title, "Descent into Hell" handwritten on a horizontal board.

Frederick J. Brown, The Descent into Hell from The Life of Christ Altarpiece (1994–1995). Oil and mixed media on canvas. MOCRA collection, a gift of the Enid and Crosby Kemper Foundation and UMB Bank. At left, the painting proper. At right, the reverse of the painting, which MOCRA Director David Brinker discussed in a MOCRA blog post for Juneteenth 2020.

Drawing from the example provided by Brown, the artists featured within the series are invited to consider how spirituality, abstraction and Black cultural production are intertwined. As such, “Meditations” seeks to offer a critical narrative within the discourse of not only Black cultural production, but Western art history by opening the dialogue of the contribution of Black artists beyond the politics of representation, underscoring the importance of abstraction as a tool to express qualities of the Black experience that exist beyond the body politic. 

This introductory episode describes how “Meditations” emerged from conversations between art historian and curator Bentley Brown and MOCRA Director David Brinker during the summer of 2020. It provides historical and biographical context about Frederick J. Brown and his milieu, including the visual artists and musicians he worked with and around in New York City during the 1970s and 1980s — most importantly, the interdisciplinary and intercultural creative community Brown cultivated at his loft studio, 120 Wooster Street in the budding art center of SoHo.

Season 1 episodes include:


Producer: David Brinker
Creative Director: Bentley Brown
Videographer: Sean Gilchrist

Featured in This Episode

Art historian Bentley Brown gazes directly at the viewer while sitting in front of a brown and beige swath of fabric with an abstract design.

Bentley Brown

Bentley Brown is a multidisciplinary artist, curator, and doctoral candidate at The Institute of Fine Arts, NYU, and is based in the Bronx, NY and Phoenix, AZ. His research at the Institute explores the pioneering role of Black artists and Black creative spaces within New York City’s contemporary art movements of the late 1960s through the mid-1980s. In his artistic practice, inspired by African American cultural production, abstract and figurative expressionist approaches to the artistic process and the desert landscape of his native Phoenix, Brown uses the mediums of canvas, found objects, photo-collage and film to to explore themes of Black identity, cosmology, and American interculturalism.

MOCRA Director David Brinker, wearing a light blue dress shirt and grey sportcoat, poses in front of an abstract brown background

David Brinker

David Brinker is Director of Saint Louis University’s Museum of Contemporary Religious Art at —the first museum to bring an interfaith focus to contemporary art. Volunteering at the museum as an undergraduate student, then joining the staff in 1995, Brinker has been deeply involved in every aspect of the museum’s operations and growth. He has overseen several important initiatives, notably the MOCRA Voices podcast. Since assuming the role of Director in 2016, he has continued to advance MOCRA’s exploration of contemporary artistic engagement with the religious and spiritual dimensions.

Brinker is active in the St. Louis visual arts and interfaith communities and serves as Treasurer for Arts & Faith St. Louis. He is also a professional flutist and keyboardist and published music arranger.