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Art Diary

Called to Create: Black Artists of the American South

16 September 2022

In December 2020, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., acquired 40 works from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation – an Atlanta-based organisation, which derives its name from a poem of 1921 by Langston Hughes, set up to promotes and preserve the work of African American artists from the Southeastern United States. It was a transformative moment for the national collection; of the 21 Black artists included in the acquisition, only Thornton Dial had previously been represented in the NGA. This exhibition (18 September–26 March 2023) is the first occasion that these 40 works have gone on public display together. The display reveals connections between artists such as Thornton Dial, Lonnie Holley and Joe Minter, all of whom incorporate a range of recycled materials, from tree branches to scraps of fabric, in their assemblage sculptures; highlights include Dial’s Clothes Factory (1995) which comprises a mattress frame, rope, carpet and spray paint. Also on show are paintings by Joe Light, Ronald Lockett and Purvis Young, as well as works on paper by Nellie Mae Rowe and husband-and-wife duo Georgia and Henry Speller. Acting as a central thread, nine quilts created by artists from the hamlet of Gee’s Bend in Alabama are interspersed throughout the galleries. Find out more from the NGA’s website.

Preview below | View Apollo’s Art Diary here

Clothes Factory (1995), Thornton Dial. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. © 2022 Thornton Dial Jr./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Gloria Jean with her Old Man and Sally Brown (1987), Georgia Speller. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Blocks and Strips (2002), Mary Lee Bendolph. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. © 2017 Mary Lee Bendolph/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Birdman Trainer (1987), Joe Light. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. © 2022 Estate of Joe Light/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York