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Celebrate Southern Black Culture through Art and Music in The Dirty South

A large structure of stacked black speakers, black megaphones and black cylinders towers next to a white wall
Nadine Robinson, Coronation Theme: Organon, 2008, speakers, sound system, and mixed media, 175 x 18 1/2 x 174 in. High Museum of Art, Atlanta, given by John F. Wieland, Jr. in memory of Marion Hill, 2008.175
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is closed today, Monday, January 30 due to inclement weather. Any programs, tours, lectures or classes will not be held. If you are a ticket holder for a tour or an event today, we’ll contact you about rescheduling.

Black History Month may be coming to an end, but Crystal Bridges visitors can continue learning and celebrating southern Black culture in the museum’s newest temporary exhibition, The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse, opening March 12. This nationally recognized exhibition from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts engages multiple senses to spotlight the southern landscape through its musical heritage, spiritual complexity, and regional swagger. Visitors will be swept through the exhibition on sonic waves as sound guides the experience from room to room.

In a narrative of persistence and power seen in visual art, video, textiles, sound elements, instruments, costumes, and even a customized car (known as a SLAB), discover how southern Black expression across time and geography has shaped and influenced the South and US contemporary culture as we know it today.

Here’s a sneak peek at some of the artists, mediums, and themes to be explored in The Dirty South:

Minnie Evans, Untitled, late 1960s, model paint, pencil, and wax crayon on board, 14 3/4 × 19 7/8 in., Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2021.34.

Minnie Evans, Untitled, late 1960s

The sacred and secular combine in Minnie Evans’s dream world, where God, people, and nature merge. Evans was deeply influenced by the physical world around her, especially the lush landscape of Airlie Gardens in Wilmington, North Carolina, where she was employed as a gatekeeper. Although she included real-life imagery like flowers and butterflies in her works, Evans’s compositions are layered with otherworldly motifs such as blonde angels and disembodied eyes that suggest the presence of the divine.

Painting of a black man wearing a white mask
Fahamu Pecou, Dobale to the Spirit, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 60 1/4 x 48 1/4 x 2 1/4 in. Courtesy Fahamu Pecou

Fahamu Pecou, Dobale to Spirit, 2017

Donning a carved, white mask and sweatpants alongside a cast-off slide sandal, the Black figure in this work contorts his body into a pose suggesting both dancing and kneeling. The title references the Yoruba practice of Dobale, a gesture of respect that typically involves a person lying prostrate on the ground. Merging West African tradition with Atlanta hip-hop, Fahamu Pecou illustrates the continuation and inevitable permutation of tradition as the subject is caught frozen, mid-performance, of a gesture to a larger, unseen power.

A large structure of stacked black speakers, black megaphones and black cylinders towers next to a white wall
Nadine Robinson, Coronation Theme: Organon, 2008, speakers, sound system, and mixed media, 175 x 18 1/2 x 174 in. High Museum of Art, Atlanta, given by John F. Wieland, Jr. in memory of Marion Hill, 2008.175

Nadine Robinson, Coronation Theme: Organon, 2008

Nadine Robinson’s “sonic portrait,” is inspired by a 1963 Project C (for Confrontation) demonstration in Birmingham, Alabama, during which nearly 1,000 children and young adults were attacked by dogs and hosed by police for peacefully protesting segregation. Featuring distorted sounds of water, protests, and barking dogs layered with sermons, prayers, and organ music, the striking 30-speaker arrangement references both a pipe organ and the shape of Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. served as co-pastor. This work will be on view in the museum’s Modern Art Gallery as a prompt for visitors to see the full show in the Temporary Exhibition Gallery.

Person with a black sheet covering their body
RaMell Ross, Caspera, 2020, archival pigment print, 49 1/2 x 61 1/2 x 2 1/4 in. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, National Endowment for the Arts Fund for American Art, MC2020.56.

RaMell Ross, Caspera, 2020

Shrouded and standing barefoot amid a desolate landscape, a child presents a mysterious silhouette. With Black feet covered in red clay dust, the figure illustrates a connection between body and land. After moving to Alabama in 2009, RaMell Ross began investigating the link between the region and the Black body, seeking to untangle the myth of Blackness at the root of much southern lore. With this ghostly figure, he points to human lives made invisible while simultaneously reasserting their visibility and agency front and center.

Metal neon sign with artificial flowers
Nari Ward, Xquisite LiquorsouL, 2009, metal and neon sign, wood with artificial flowers, shoelaces, shoe tips, 20 ft. 10 in. x 32 x 41 in. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Aldine S. Hartman Endowment Fund, Eric and Jeanette Lipman Fund, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment, 2019.283a-b.

Nari Ward, Xquisite LiquorsouL, 2009

Nari Ward is a well-known name for Crystal Bridges visitors. During The Dirty South, the artist of We the People greets museum-goers with an arresting work on view in the Garrison Lobby. Ward’s Xquisite LiquorsouL (2009) is part of a series of neon-sign works that chronicle the gentrification of his Harlem neighborhood. The letters of the original “LIQUOR” sign are creatively inverted and illuminated to spell out “SOUL”—a play on words that references the prevalence of churches and liquor stores in Black communities like his around the country. Collected from the sign’s former site, Ward’s addition of remnants—discarded shoes, shoelaces, and plastic flowers—suggests the work as a memento or memorial for what has been lost.

The Dirty South opens at Crystal Bridges on March 12, 2022. Get tickets here.