Press Release | Written by Aaliyah Butler
WASHINGTON – Howard University Gallery of Art currently has four works of art on display in the “Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture and the Sonic Impulse” exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA). The exhibit concludes at VMFA, which is in Richmond, Virginia, on September 6.
Organized by the VMFA, the “Dirty South” focuses on the roots of Southern hip-hop culture and how the aesthetic traditions of the African American South have shaped visual art and musical expression over the last 100 years. This exhibit is curated by Valerie Cassel Olivier, Howard University alumna and VMFA’s Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary art.
“To be able to showcase works from the Howard collection is really wonderful, not only to shine a light on work that is in the collection, but the sheer commitment of historical Black colleges and universities collecting this work. That’s really deemed by the mainstream as the gold standard,” said Cassel Oliver. “We don’t celebrate Black artists as much as we should and value their output. However, I want people to see this as a holistic approach. Artists are writing our histories.”
Beginning in the 1920s with spirituals, jazz and blues, the presentation interlaces similarities in the visual art production of the Southern United States. The exhibition showcases an intergenerational artist group of artists working in various genres from sculpture, photography, sound pieces and large-scale installation works.
“It has been our pleasure to lend to the ‘Dirty South’ exhibition. Howard University has a vast collection of works by African-American artists that is not very well-known, and it is our goal to share as much of our collection as possible with the art-going public,” said Lisa Farrington, associate dean of fine arts. “The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has given us a wonderful opportunity to showcase a rare Catlett terracotta; paintings by William H. Johnson from two unique periods in his career, expressionism and synthetic cubism; and an iconic, spiritually inspired image by Aaron Douglas in his inimitable graphic style. We are honored to be a part of this wonderful endeavor.”
The overall “Dirty South” exhibition highlights more than 140 works of art, drawing from the visual imagery found in music videos, song lyrics and cultural ephemera. The showcase focuses on the frameworks of landscape, belief systems and the Black body and contributions of academically trained artists as well as those creative intellectuals relegated to the margins as “folk artists.”
The VMFA exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue that will serve as a review on the African-American South and highlight social responsibility as well as what it means to be Black in the South.