Artist Allison Janae Hamilton was born and grew up on southern soil. Now, she makes work in a variety of media about how nature and tradition intertwine to shape human experience, including that of Black Americans in the rural South.
She has said, “I’m using the landscapes I know most intimately to focus on the specifics of that landscape and consider the histories and narratives of displacement, land loss, bodies, ownership of space and migration around that space. There is an assumption that the tie between landscape, the earth and Blackness is rooted solely in the past, that it’s not a contemporary lived experience. But that’s not true. I’m interested in all of these contemporary relationships between life and landscape.”
Drawing upon her experiences in Kentucky, Florida and her maternal family’s farmland in western Tennessee, she uses this personal relationship with rural landscapes to illustrate how land influences people and power structures. The exhibition “Allison Janae Hamilton: Between Life and Landscape” is on view at the Georgia Museum of Art through Feb. 5 and includes two photographs and two video works. Nature takes center stage in all of them, allowing Hamilton to examine how landscapes hold traces of the past and affect the present.
Nature also takes on the role of storyteller in Hamilton’s work. Her choice of landscape often holds historical significance. Her “Floridawater” series of photographs, included in the exhibition, depicts the artist submerged in a canal off the Wacissa River, which was excavated using enslaved labor in the 19th century. Myth and folklore are also strong influences in her work. Spectral figures haunt Hamilton’s images and watch over the landscape. These figures add a fantastical element and give human form to the histories that shape her work. Myth and folklore combine with Hamilton’s use of landscape to illustrate how history influences contemporary culture and how elements of the past still mark the land.
“Allison Janae Hamilton’s films and photography are very much about the South, from the long histories of African American labor to the violent storms that have ravaged the region,” said Jeffrey Richmond-Moll, curator of American art. “But, for Hamilton, the southern landscape also raises larger questions about how all humans live with the land and how to navigate the contradictions of landscapes that are at once serene, fragile and haunted. Her work will evocatively complement other programs at the museum this fall that examine the past, present and futures of southern photography.”
Hamilton has exhibited her work at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Studio Museum in Harlem; MoMA PS1; and the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. She was a 2013-14 Fellow at the Whitney Independent Study Program, sponsored by the Whitney Museum of American Art, and has been awarded artist residencies at the Studio Museum in Harlem, Recess (New York, New York) and Fundación Botín (Santander, Spain). She is the recipient of the Creative Capital Award and the Rema Hort Mann Foundation Grant. She received her doctoral degree in American studies from New York University and her master of fine arts degree from Columbia University. She lives and works in New York City.