Artwork and Resistance within the American South
If there is a need – and in a secular culture there is an opportunity – to argue that creativity and spirituality are innate aspects of man, a special place in the discussion should be reserved for self-taught artists.
Although the work of self-taught artists from the American South has been a significant personal interest for many years, "We'll Go: Art and Resistance in the American South" was my first opportunity to introduce me to a representative selection of their work. These are artists who, under impossible circumstances, are denied access and freedom of choice through systemic racism and who create innovative works of art without access to the mainstream of Western visual arts by using the objects they find and often viewing themselves as inspired by God.
Nellie Mae Rowe said, "We always have something for the Lord to do and I will try my best to do it." Bessie Harvey viewed God as "the artist" in her work. Emmer Sewell arranges things to make her garden more beautiful, but that is "about the messages of the gospel of the Lord". Thornton Dial discovered that since he started making art, his mind "has brought more things to itself" and the mind "works out of the mind and is getting stronger. . . Like an angel that follows you. "
Joe Minter asked God to help him find a way to bring people together as one. “And finally it occurred to me again that the only way was through art. Art is the universal. “China Pettway, part of a quartet of quilters from the isolated African American community of Gee & # 39; s Bend in heartland Alabama, says," When I quilt, I sing because it's a whistling hum God has given me. "
Courtesy of the High Museum of ArtThornton Dial (1928-2016), Green Willows: The Birds That Didn't Learn to Fly (2007)
These statements are repeated in the life, practices, and artwork of other among the artists featured here. This belief found expression in the civil rights movement, the importance of which is examined here through documentary photographs, including that of Doris Derby. Derby said: “I wanted to take photos of the people who were there and who survived. . . They were some of the same people who risked their lives to vote and improve their status. . . I wanted to show who the people are, where they live and what they do. They were the basis for the success of the civil rights movement. "
This exhibition is structured in relation to the images of roots, courtyards, walking and migration that enable exploration of sources, home, protest and influence. It focuses on factors that facilitate survival, creativity and change in an environment of persistent and systemic discrimination. Bonnie Greer said at the launch of We Will Walk: “We abstracted our experiences; We have abstracted our life. It is an act of great craftsmanship and ingenuity, and that is how we saved ourselves. "
Several generations of self-taught artists from the South are represented here, from the work of William Edmondson and Bill Traylor from the 1930s to Lonnie Holley's I Woke Up in a Fucked-Up America, a video from 2018. The majority of The works come from the collection of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, which includes Mary T. Smith, Purvis Young, Ronald Lockett, Joe Light and the quiltmakers from Gee & # 39; s Bend in addition to those already mentioned.
Courtesy Turner Contemporary / Stephen WhiteInstallation view of “We Will Walk: Art and Resistance in the American South” with quilting
Among the many additions to this exhibit is that it will be the UK's first opportunity to see examples of quilt making for African American people. The extent, creativity, and quality of the legacy of the textile traditions of African American artists is still revealed in the United States through legacies and exhibitions. Take a look, for example, at the current retrospective of quilter Rosie Lee Tompkins from the Bay Area at BAMPFA.
The Souls Grown Deep collection, now moving to leading American and international art museums, is particularly strong in works ranging from the death of Martin Luther King Jr. to the late 20th century. The roots of the work can be traced back to slave cemeteries and remote forests. After the American Civil War and the collapse of southern agriculture, migration led to large population centers such as Birmingham, Alabama, where iron and steel production created jobs and led to the new language of quilting, funeral and court arts here.
Music – blues, folk, gospel, hip-hop, R&B, and soul – is woven into the show, which shows how much these artists improvise as jazz musicians do. Holley in particular has dedicated his life to the practice of improvisational creativity, combining art and music. The tradition also includes dance, oral literature, informal theater, culinary arts, and much more, all of which reflect the rich, symbolic world of the black rural south through highly charged works that address a variety of revelatory social, religious, and political issues.
The exhibition ends with mainstream artists who have left the south but whose work explores similar themes and events. Beverly Buchanan's hut sculptures reflect her upbringing in the South and explore topics such as slavery, poverty, inequality and racism. Kara Walker, reflecting on her teenage years in Atlanta, Georgia, has made a number of watercolors of farm workers and animals.
Courtesy Turner Contemporary / Stephen WhiteInstallation view of "We Will Walk: Art and Resistance in the American South"
Jack Whitten met Dr. King in 1957 at a church in Montgomery, Alabama, following the Montgomery bus boycott. He was also at the March in Washington for Labor and Freedom and with Dr. King's 1963 speech "I have a dream" present. One of several works by Whitten that Dr. Dedicated to King, King & # 39; s Wish (Martin Luther's Dream) (1968) is a large, semi-abstract painting in which faces appear and disappear in the intense hues of several brushstrokes, primarily “through the content of their character "Are defined.
Kerry James Marshall's Souvenir: Composition in Three Parts (1998-2000), a wall-mounted sign, plaque, and bouquet of flowers from the 16th Street Baptist Church, pays homage to the four girls who lived at the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963 Birmingham, Alabama, were killed. in a terrorist attack by white supremacists. This bombing, described by King as "one of the most vicious and tragic crimes against humanity," marked a turning point in the United States in the civil rights movement and helped support the 1964 Congressional passage of the Civil Rights Act.
Much has changed since Edmondson and Traylor first picked up chisels and pencils, but the photos taken at civil rights rallies in the 1960s are the same as those taken today during the Black Lives Matters protests . Systemic racism, precisely because it is systemic, is not easy to eradicate. This exhibition supports the struggle while showing the strength and creativity of those who are experiencing the worst oppression of the system.
"We Will Walk: Art and Resistance in the American South" is on Turner Contemporary, Rendezvous, Margate, Kent and runs through September 6th. Admission is free, but prior registration at turnercontemporary.org is required. Telephone 01483 233000.