'We abstracted our experience — that is how we saved ourselves': emotional opening at Margate's show of African American art

'We abstracted our experience — that is how we saved ourselves': emotional opening at Margate's show of African American art

An important exhibition opened at Turner Contemporary in Margate last week. We Will Walk: Art and Resistance in the American South is the first time the UK has seen a show devoted to African American art from the Deep South that was shaped by the American Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. It is long overdue.This art is born of resilience, ingenuity and indomitable human spirit, made by more than 20 artists who often worked on the margins, using whatever found or recycled materials they could lay their hands on. But while very specific to a time and a place, We Will Walk addresses issues of race, class and resistance that reverberate strongly throughout today’s world, whether in the American South or on England’s south coast.

Hanging trees and hollering ghosts: the unsettling art of the American deep south

Hanging trees and hollering ghosts: the unsettling art of the American deep south

The quilters of Gee’s Bend make art out of recycled cloth. Lonnie Holley crafts sculptures out of car tyres and other human detritus. Self-taught luthier Freeman Vines carves guitars out of wood that came from a “hanging tree” once used to lynch black men. The “yard shows” of Dinah Young and Joe Minter are permanent exhibitions of their art – a cacophony of “scrap-iron elegies”. Almost all of this art comes from Alabama, and it all features in We Will Walk, Turner Contemporary’s groundbreaking new exhibition of African-American art from the southern state and its surroundings.

Souls Grown Deep Invests in Gee's Bend, Alabama, the Home of Generations of Quiltmakers

Souls Grown Deep Invests in Gee's Bend, Alabama, the Home of Generations of Quiltmakers

Souls Grown Deep (SGD) is planning to help revitalize Gee’s Bend, Alabama—the home of multiple generations of quiltmakers, many of which are represented in the organization’s collection. Established to promote the work of African American artists from the South, Souls Grown Deep has already succeeded in spotlighting the community, which consists of the towns of Boykin and Alberta, by fostering the acquisition of quilts and other works from artists in the region by major art museums in the United States—since 2014, the SGD has placed quilts by sixty-eight Gee’s Bend quilters into the permanent collections of twenty cultural institutions.

Can Gee’s Bend — the Tiny Alabama Community Behind America’s Most Dazzling Quilts — Become an Art Destination to Rival Marfa?

Can Gee’s Bend — the Tiny Alabama Community Behind America’s Most Dazzling Quilts — Become an Art Destination to Rival Marfa?

In a review of the Whitney Museum of American Art’s landmark 2002 exhibition of quilts from Gee’s Bend, New York Times critic Michael Kimmelman described the textiles as “some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced.” The quilts, he wrote, were “so eye-poppingly gorgeous that it’s hard to know how to begin to account for them. Since then, these dazzling geometric artworks have traveled around the globe, been reproduced on official US postage stamps, and become broadly recognized as an important part of American art history. But back in Gee’s Bend—the tiny Alabama hamlet formally known as Boykin that has nurtured three generations of quiltmakers—the impact of the quilts’ renown has been more subtle.

Souls Grown Deep Announces Five Initiatives to Benefit Gee's Bend, Alabama

Souls Grown Deep (SGD) announced today that it is investing in five new initiatives to improve the quality of life in Gee’s Bend, Alabama. The region is home to multiple generations of quiltmakers, many of whom have work in the Souls Grown Deep Foundation’s collection or are represented in those of major museums around the country through SGD’s collections transfer program. Furthering SGD’s dedication to promoting racial and social justice and economic opportunity in the region, the five initiatives create new opportunities for the quiltmakers to achieve financial success, sponsor arts education programs for local teachers and students to engage with the distinct visual culture of the community, and contribute to fair representation in the 2020 census.

American quilts hailed as miraculous works of modern art come to UK

American quilts hailed as miraculous works of modern art come to UK

When the wildly distinctive quilts made by generations of rural women in Gee’s Bend, Alabama, went on display in New York, one critic called them “some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced”. The quilts have since been used on a set of American stamps and a series of them will travel to the UK for the first time next year for an exhibition showcasing art and artists from America’s deep south. The gallery Turner Contemporary in Margate announced details of a show that will shine light on work made by people as they lived through America’s civil rights struggles, often in conditions of utter poverty.

Souls Grown Deep Foundation Makes Four New Museum Acquisition Agreements

Souls Grown Deep Foundation Makes Four New Museum Acquisition Agreements

The Souls Grown Deep Foundation, the nonprofit which aims to strengthen the presence of African American artists from the southern United States in the collections of leading museums, has entered into acquisition/gift agreements with the Asheville Art Museum, North Carolina; the Henry Art Gallery, Seattle; and the Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio; as well as the Baltimore Museum of Art, pending board approval.

Promised Land: Saving Margaret’s Grocery in Mississippi

Promised Land: Saving Margaret’s Grocery in Mississippi

It all started with a promise. “He asked me would I marry him,” Margaret Rogers Dennis recounted years later of Reverend Herman Dan Dennis’s proposal to her in 1984. “I wasn’t exactly sure. But he said, ‘If you’ll marry me, I’ll turn your little old brown plank store into a palace.’” The reverend kept his promise. He turned the old run-of-the-mill grocery store that Margaret ran with her first husband, who was tragically killed in a robbery at the store, into a colorful mecca where “ALL IS WELCOME JEWS AND GENTILES.” Multiple towers made of cinder blocks painted red, blue, pink, and yellow decorate the property, and the main building itself — the grocery — is similarly painted in multicolored squares and rectangles. Many liken the overall effect of these geometric blocks of color to a religious “Lego fortress,” but it is also reminiscent of Mondrian’s distinctive color blocking—had he ever projected his patterns over an entire property rather than a single canvas, that is.

On View: ‘Souls Grown Deep: Artists of the African American South’ at Philadelphia Museum of Art

On View: ‘Souls Grown Deep: Artists of the African American South’ at Philadelphia Museum of Art

Thornton Dial Sr. (1928-2016), made symbolic mixed-media paintings and sculptural assemblage works with profound titles. “The Last Day of Martin Luther King” (1992), references the civil rights leader’s assassination, a moment of national tragedy, sadness, and mourning, and an inflection point in American race relations. “High and Wide (Carrying the Rats to the Man)” (2002) depicts a slave ship in troubled waters. “The Old Water” (2004) raises issues of equal opportunity and government accountability. All three works by Dial, who was born, lived, worked and died in Alabama, are on view in “Souls Grown Deep: Artists of the African American South.” The exhibition features 24 works by African American artists from the southeastern United States, spanning generations, expressing themselves through variety of mediums.

Souls Grown Deep Foundation to invest $1 million in artists’ hometowns in the U.S. south

Souls Grown Deep Foundation to invest $1 million in artists’ hometowns in the U.S. south

The foundation that holds one of the largest collections of art by African American artists in the U.S. south will invest its assets in the communities where those artists lived and worked. The Souls Grown Deep Foundation is committing $1 million over three years – the bulk of its endowment – to support racial and social justice as well as jobs and community development in nine southern states. The impact investing strategy was developed in partnership with Upstart Co-Lab, a network of investors in “the creative economy,” as a way to share some of the growing value of Souls Grown Deep’s collection with the families and communities of the 160 artists who created the more than 1,000 works.