Manchester University
Oak Leaves

February 16, 2018


Art professor Jeff Diesburg spent many months painting an expressionistic portrait to honor MLK for the  50th anniversary celebration this year.

Photo provided

Art and Photography Exhibits Honor Dr. King 

Teresa Masteller 


To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech at Manchester University, the gallery exhibition “Bending Toward Justice,” located in the Link Gallery of Otho Winger Hall, is open to the public through Feb. 28, 2018.

Curated by art professor Ejenobo Oke, Manchester Magazine editor Melinda Lantz and university archivist Jeanine Wine, "Bending Toward Justice" showcases Dr. King’s visit to Manchester, as well as the university’s history with diversity. The exhibit features archived photographs, each with an informational blurb, a portrait by art professor Jeff Diesburg and a historical timeline that gives information on diversity at Manchester.

Because this exhibit required a great deal of preparation, Oke met with Lantz and Wine during summer 2017 in order to start planning. They relied heavily upon the university’s archives to provide the images seen throughout the gallery. Some of these images show Dr. King with well-known Manchester figures such as former college presidents Jo Young Switzer and A. Blair Helman. Switzer had lunch with King while she was a student at Manchester.

Ejenobo Oke, director of galleries, creates exhibitions with the hope that they will connect the local college and surrounding communities with art. She treated “Bending Toward Justice” as a museum exhibit rather than an art exhibit. “I wanted it to be a learning experience,” Oke said. “If people know nothing about Manchester and the connection with Dr. King, peace studies and nonconflict resolution, they would be able to come into the exhibit and follow along in order to see what that connection is.”

Diesburg also started working on his contribution to the exhibit during summer 2017. His desire to acknowledge and celebrate Dr. King's visit to Manchester, in combination with his desire to contribute to the university community, inspired him to create a portrait of King, as he was during his visit to Manchester.

Diesburg thus created a 5x5-foot expressionistic acrylic portrait of King using mainly dark blue, dark red, pink and yellow. He was given permission by the university to use archived photographs of King speaking at Manchester as references for the portrait. Diesburg used a low-quality black-and-white photograph that shows King actively speaking as a main reference. As the mouth and chin were too blurry to see detail, Diesburg used another close-up image of King to be as accurate as possible.[2] 

“I wanted to make it look like he was in the act of speaking,” Diesburg said. “The linework gives it a vibrating feel. I was aiming for that when I used the pink value and the light yellow-white value on a grayscale.” This sense of motion is most apparent in the center of King’s face, as well as the lower lips.

A hanging timeline of Manchester’s failures and successes regarding diversity can be seen and read from two angles, both inside and outside the building. The timeline is purposefully placed that way to create dimension in the exhibit, as everything else is directly against the wall.

The timeline starts in the early 1900s and ends in the early 2000s. “It’s important that people understand that we don’t always do our best work,” Oke said. “We have done things that we are not so proud of, but they are part of who we are. We won’t try to hide our imperfections; instead we will learn from them and move on.”

The mention of the history of blackface at the university, as well as the protests of King’s visit are just some of the failures that can be read about in the exhibit. Some successes highlighted in the timeline include the support group created by student and future president Otho Winger for Manchester’s first African American students Martha and Joseph Cunningham, and the Cunninghams’ achievements after graduation.

“Bending Toward Justice” opened Jan. 31, 2018, and will be open to students, faculty, staff and the community for the duration of February from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.