“In the Presence of Our Ancestors: Southern Perspectives in African American Art” brings together methods of visual storytelling and ancestral memory through the individual practices of artists from the “Black Belt” region of the American South—a term that refers to the region’s black soil, as well as the legacies of African Americans who shaped its social and agrarian culture. Spanning from Louisiana to Florida, and the mid-20th century to the present, the artists highlighted in this exhibition document rural life and traditions of metalwork, funerary and yard art, and quilt making. Here, we witness an evolution of regional artistic practice, as raw materials and found objects related to time, place, and accessibility take center stage.
These artworks are sometimes called “folk” or “vernacular,” and the artists who made them labeled “self-taught.” Within the context of art museums, institutions rooted in colonial endeavors and oppression, such terms diminish the thoughtfulness and creative autonomy of both artwork and artist; for this reason, we do not use them here. The works speak for themselves, centering Black voices, material traditions, and visions.