John Brown’s Body

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9x12 linocut print on 11x14 hand torn BFK Rives 100% cotton paper

This print was commissioned by Abolition Apostles, a group of people motivated by their faith to build relationships with incarcerated neighbors through letter-writing and to work toward the end of prisons. They’re currently working to create a house of hospitality for people visiting their loved ones at Angola prison.

John Brown is one of a few great believers in freedom that inspires the work of Abolition Apostles so I made this portrait. The shattered barbed and razor wire together with the bolt cutters form a suggestion of a halo and cross bones, symbols of both death and life eternal, because while John Brown has obviously been executed and his body is buried and rotting, it’s also true that John Brown lives.

After he was executed by the pro-slavery US forces a song was written about him that goes in part like this: “John Brown’s body lies a-molderin’ in the grave but his soul goes marching on.”

Saint John Brown’s lesson to me is that to be an ally to the oppressed means being a traitor to the oppressive order. He took Christ’s life seriously enough that he knew a world without slavery was possible. He cast his lot with the enslaved and he was, predictably, executed by the USA. To this day he has not been pardoned of treason. America’s textbooks call him “deranged” and “deluded,” claim he “believed God had spoken to him.” In truth he had a firm and hopeful faith in an unseeable God of liberation, one whose presence is made known in the bodies of the downtrodden. In his life and death I see what the the apostles taught us— that the powers of domination can kill us but they can’t stop us. May we follow in the path of Saint John Brown. In the name of our Lord and Traitor Jesus Christ. Amen.

I'll do more print runs. I have a baby to take care of and a day job where I make money. If it's out of stock make sure you hit that back in stock reminder button then practice some patience and keep an eye on your email inbox. In the meantime practice abolition and direct action in the spirit of John Brown.