Southern Journeys: African American Artists of the South examines the work of African American artists who have chronicled the history of southern culture in their art. Memory of place, rather than geographic location, is the hallmark of this chronical. While many of the featured artists were born in the south and have remained there, others migrated beyond its regional borders. Some became international expatriots, finding a more welcoming home outside of the United States. Nonetheless, for all of them the persistent memory of southern culture still defines or defined their work. As exhibition curator Eloise Johnson notes: “These cultural “griots” (an African storyteller; preserver of tribal memories) tell multi-layered stories of African American history that include drawing, painting, sculpture, and photography.”
With a broad range of subject matter pulled from personal experience, musical and folk lore traditions, and religious practices, the works in Southern Journeys weave a rich and complex narrative. Organized by the Alexandria Museum of Art and Stella Jones Gallery, Southern Journeys features 47 works from significant African American artists, among them sculptor Richmond Barthé (the first African-American sculptor to have a piece become part of the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art), Romare Bearden, David Driskell, Jacob Lawrence, Elizabeth Catlett, and Hughie Lee-Smith.
In tracing the path of these southern artists from the advent of slavery through the Great Migration, the Harlem Renaissance, the Black Arts Movement, and into the post-modern era, Southern Journeys is intended to stimulate discussion on issues of “folk culture” and its relationship to contemporary artists who create their work in the south. Likewise, the exhibition’s breadth of media and chronology, as well as the inclusion of multiple visions and voices, challenges viewers to broaden the canon of American art history and continue bringing African-American artists more fully into the mainstream of American creative discourse.