We Will Walk – Art and Resistance in the American South
From 7 February 2020, Turner Contemporary is showcasing the work of artists and makers from Alabama and surrounding states in We Will Walk – Art and Resistance in the American South.
We Will Walk – Art and Resistance in the American South is the first exhibition of its kind in the UK and reveals a little-known history shaped by the Civil Rights period in the 1950s and 60s.
It brings together sculptural assemblages, paintings and quilts by more than 20 African American artists from Alabama and surrounding states. The artists represented in the exhibition lived through the Civil Rights struggle and its aftermath, often in conditions of poverty. This art is characterised by the remaking and reuse of materials through necessity, custom, culture and innovation as well as a vital connection to place and nature. The exhibition also features Civil Rights music and documentary photographs that reveal the links between the art and its context.
Some works are in direct dialogue with this era of protest, while others evidence the longstanding impact of segregation and racial terror. Produced from the mid-20th century to the present, many of the artworks have come to Europe for the first time. In an era of worldwide protest on the streets, We Will Walk addresses issues of race, class and resistance through a diverse range of works developed outside of the mainstream.
Much of the work in We Will Walk draws on the tradition of the ‘Yard Show’, temporary outdoor environments made from salvaged materials. This includes the root sculptures of Bessie Harvey and Emmer Sewell’s iconic sculpture created outside her home in Marion County. The exhibition showcases a series of quilts from the isolated hamlet of Gee’s Bend (known today as Boykin) in Alabama, which are on display in the UK for the first time. These world-famous quilts have a distinctive style, and are often made from recycling old clothing such as blue jeans. The exhibition also features guitars by Freeman Vines, including one made from the wood of an old hanging tree. These artists turned impossible circumstances into innovative artworks.
The exhibition is curated by Hannah Collins and Paul Goodwin with Turner Contemporary.
The exhibition was conceived by the artist Hannah Collins, who spent three years researching and developing the show, having encountered the work of these artists and makers in the American South. As lead curator, she is joined by curator Paul Goodwin, Professor of Contemporary Art and Urbanism at University of the Arts London, whose interest is in fugitive art practices and place.
The selected artists and makers include:
Mary Lee Bendolph; Hawkins Bolden; Beverly Buchanan; Sheila Pree Bright; Thornton Dial; William Edmondson; Ralph Griffin; Bessie Harvey; Lonnie Holley; Ronald Lockett; Joe Minter; Nellie Mae Rowe; Emmer Sewell; Mary T Smith; James Son Ford Thomas; Bill Traylor; Freeman Vines; Annie Mae Young; Dinah Young and Purvis Young.
Civil Rights Photographers include:
Bob Adelman; Morton Broffman; Doris Derby; Declan Haun; Matt Herron; James E Hinton; Danny Lyon; Charles Moore; Charmian Reading; Steve Schapiro and Ernest Withers.
Music plays a big part of We Will Walk – Art and Resistance in the American South.
Calvin Forbes, Professor Emeritus, School of the Art Institute of Chicago (also a poet and writer on the history of jazz) has compiled a playlist to accompany the exhibition. This is being played within the exhibition space.
Calvin Forbes Playlist:
- Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit
- Nina Simone – Mississippi Goddam
- Lighting Hopkins – Tom Moore Blues
- Nina Simone – I Wish I knew How It Would Feel to Be Free
- Gil Scott-Heron – The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
- John Coltrane – Alabama
- Sweet Honey in The Rock – No More Auction Block
- Joan Baez – We Shall Overcome
- The Staple Singers – Respect Yourself
- Freedom Singers – This Little Light of Mine
- Public Enemy – Fight the Power
- Duke Ellington – Come Sunday
- Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A Changing
- Les McCann & Eddie Harris – Compared to What
- Vera Hall – Trouble So Hard
The exhibition also includes other musical elements within it, including work by sculptor and Blues musician James ‘Son Ford’ Thomas, and sculptor and luthier Freeman Vines. Visitors will be able to listen to music by Thomas in the exhibition, and to music played on a guitar created by Vines for his brother-in-law, Johnny Ray Daniels. Finally, a video by artist and musician Lonnie Holley to accompany his track I Woke Up in a F**ked-Up America is also included. The sound for this video is available via headphones only.
The details of which are below:
James ‘Son Ford’ Thomas Playlist:
1. 44 Blues James ‘Son Ford’ Thomas Album/EP: Voices of Mississippi: Artists and Musicians Documented by William Ferris Record Label: Dust To Digital, 2018
2. Cairo Blues James ‘Son Ford’ Thomas Album/EP: Living Country Blues USA, Vol. 5 – Mississippi Delta Blues Record Label: L+R Records, 2008
Freeman Vines Playlist:
1. Black Man’s Dream Adolphus Bell (vocal, guitar, drums) Album/EP: One Man Band Release Date: 2005 Record Label: Music Maker Recordings © A. Bell, Lucky Guitar Music, ASCAP
2. Southland Blues Guitar Gabriel (vocals, guitar) Album/EP: Deep In the South Release Date: 1999 Record Label: Music Maker Recordings Additional credits: Tim Duffy; guitar. Michael Parrish; piano. © R.L. Jones, Lucky Guitar Music, ASCAP
3. Slavery Time Blues Rufus McKenzie (vocal, harmonica) Album/EP: Slavery, prison, women, God and … Whiskey Release Date: 2007 Record Label: DixieFrog Records © R. McKenzie, Lucky Guitar Music, ASCAP
4. Get Ready The Glorifying Vines Sisters of Farmville, North Carolina Album/EP: Jesus Never Fails/Get Ready Release Date: 1973 Record Label: Pinewoods Records Additional credits: Mattie Vines; lead vocal. Alice Vines; vocal. Dorothy Vines; vocal. Johnny Ray Daniels; vocal, guitar. © M. Vines, Dora Music, BMI
5. Blues #1 Freeman Vines Unreleased field recording 2016 © Freeman Vines (vocals/guitar)
6. Johnny B. Goode Freeman Vines Unreleased field recording 2016 © Freeman Vines (vocals/guitar)
Freeman’s brother-in-law, Johnny Ray Daniels, is playing a guitar made for him by Freeman Vines on the track “Get Ready.” The other musicians performing on the track are Vines’ sisters.
Lonnie Holley I Woke Up in a F**ked Up America Music video (5 minutes, 33 seconds) 2018
If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.
– Martin Luther King