Hip-hop was the catalyst that spurred the creation of “The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse,” a new exhibit at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art that celebrates 100 years of black Southern culture. .
In addition to the visual art and material objects you might expect, such as paintings, photographs, and sculptures, sound and music play an important role in “The Dirty South.” It explores themes of landscape – both natural and man-made; sinners and saints, a religious and spiritual exploration; as well as black corporality, or the black body with regard to its tradition of detention and its knowledge.
It will be open to the public on Saturday and will be visible until July 25.
“Sonic Impulse” refers to the many audio components that take guests from one part of the exhibition to another, according to Alejo Benedetti, associate curator of contemporary art at Crystal Bridges and in-house curator of “The Dirty South.” .
This is the exhibition’s third iteration, but it’s in a larger capacity here, says Valerie Cassel Oliver, curator of “The Dirty South,” who is the modern and contemporary art curator at the Sydney and Frances Lewis family at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. While “The Dirty South” first aired in Virginia, the idea was planted in Houston.
“It became clear to me that the younger generation that really embraced their southern side, took a lot of pride and felt very grounded in those stories,” Oliver said. “I asked them, ‘What makes you want to agree to be from the South?’ A lot of people pointed to southern hip hop, that it gave them license to create narratives about what it’s like to be grounded in the south.”
This contrasted with his own experience of having moved away from the South for fear that it was not a sophisticated place. Oliver said she later realized being from the South was her pair of ruby slippers, the power and authenticity that had been with her from the start.
Visitors shouldn’t miss the SLAB (slow, loud and loud) car in the South Concourse of Crystal Bridges. The Cadillac was commissioned and customized by Richard FIED Jones, a hip hop artist from New Orleans. Oliver said these cars are an often overlooked method of self-expression.
“It’s hard to appreciate them as works of art because we’re too busy racializing the performativity, the loud music, and the elbows sticking out,” she said. “But when you take it out of that context, you appreciate it as a work of art.”
Other unique items on display include Jason Moran’s “STAGED: Slugs’ Saloon,” a recreation of the Slugs’ Saloon, a prominent free jazz venue in New York’s East Village. The space includes drums, bass, piano, chair and jukebox. Oliver said she believes it belongs in the “Sinners and Saints” section since music can be the connection between the physical and the spiritual.
“The Past is Perpetual/Weighted Feet” by Kaneem Smith features a large bale of cotton framed in iron weights with rows of suspended iron scales on either side, symbolic of the culture’s associations with slavery and themes of commerce, resistance and justice.
Nick Cave’s “Soundsuit” is a large construction of twigs, synthetic berries and metal on a mannequin. Cave began making sonic suits as a sort of protective armor to mask the wearer’s race, class, and gender.
“Khemestry” by Sanford Biggers is a unique antique quilt mounted to a wall in a three-dimensional, origami-like fashion using birch plywood. Quilt patterns important in black quilting techniques, such as “Flying Geese”, are featured in the exhibition for visitors to enjoy as textiles and influences for other media.
A series of special events will accompany the exhibition and are listed on crystalbridges.org.