Motley, who had his first solo show in New York, in 1928, was primarily known for his exuberant scenes chronicling Bronzeville, a segregated Black neighborhood in his hometown of Chicago. In Tongues (Holy Rollers), purplish-brown curtains open to reveal a dramatically lit nighttime gathering at a Pentecostal church. The rapt central figure in white with outstretched arms could be a reference to Elder Lucy Smith, a famous Chicago faith healer. Pentecostal churches had become increasingly common in northern cities beginning in the late 1910s, when migrating Black southerners brought their worship practices with them.
Gallery label from 2022
Many of Motley’s paintings, including Tongues (Holy Rollers), show groups of Black people gathered in different spaces. In this painting we see people swaying from side to side as they pray, sing, and spend time together. Look at how Motley painted different people in this scene. Notice their body language and facial expressions—how do you think they feel? Where in your community do you and your neighbors come together?
Gallery label from For Kids, 2022