The Southern identity is one of continually contested and changing character. The exhibition “Stony the Road We Trod,” on view at the Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia through April 28, examines how African American artists redefined and reimagined southern identity. Their works of art contributed to cultural memory and changing culture in the South and commented on themes of personal and collective struggle.
Organized by Shawnya L. Harris, Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson Curator of African American and African Diasporic Art, the exhibition contains works from a variety of artists and time periods, from “Spring Flowers,” painted by Claudia Clark in 1945, to “Signs of Confinement,” finished by Leo Twiggs in 2018. These decades represent years of collective struggle and community action. The works in this exhibition grew out of significant movements in African American history like the Harlem Renaissance and the civil rights movement. The exhibition title comes from the Negro national anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” written by James Weldon Johnson. The national theme for Black History Month, “Black Migrations,” also puts these artists in dialogue with one another in communicating the African American experience, filled with its share of both literal and metaphorical travels.
Unique individual experiences also appear. The artists represented include teachers, soldiers and both self-taught and professional artists. Archie Byron worked for the sheriff in Atlanta. His work reflects his unique perspective on gender, ethnic and personal identity. James Hiram Malone painted a picture of the bathroom that he cleaned at his job but was not allowed to use in the 1940s. The work on view also includes a variety of materials, like Amalia Amaki’s use of beads, buttons and mirrors to piece together works on African American life and culture. The variety of time periods, experiences and objects represented communicates the cultural diversity of the African American experience.
“Stony the Road We Trod” also highlights the work of the 2019 Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson Award Winner, Leo Twiggs. A nationally known artist born and still living in South Carolina, he was the first African American to receive a doctorate in art education from the University of Georgia. His work frequently focuses on the Confederate flag, reimagining it through the traditional African dyeing process of batik. More recent images examine the murders at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
Work by Camille Billops is on display the same dates in the museum’s Alonzo and Vallye Dudley Gallery. Billops has been a pivotal figure in African American art for over five decades. Known as a filmmaker and ceramics artist, she also compiled work on African American literary, visual and performance artists in the Hatch-Billops collection, started with her husband in 1975 (much of which is housed at Emory University, in Atlanta), and established the journal Artist and Influence in 1981. These collections will keep the work of African American artists for future generations. From collective to individual experiences, each of these works contributed to chronicling African American history and influencing future southern identity.
Related events at the museum include:
- 90 Carlton: Winter, the museum’s quarterly reception, on Feb. 8 (free for members, $5 nonmembers);
- A Family Day on Feb. 9 from 10 a.m. to noon;
- A public tour with Harris on Feb. 13 at 2 p.m.;
- A screening of Billops’ documentary “Finding Christa” on Feb. 21 at 7 p.m.;
- The museum’s annual Black History Month Awards and Dinner on Feb. 22 ($60 members, $80 nonmembers, available at bit.ly/gmoa-bhma19); and
- A tour with Emily Hogrefe-Ribeiro, assistant curator of education, on Feb. 27 at 2 p.m.
All programs are free and open to the public unless otherwise indicated.