Souls Grown Deep like the Rivers: Black Artists from the American South ★★★★ Royal Academy of Arts | Mar 17 - Jun 18, 2023


Souls Grown Deep like the Rivers provides a fascinating glimpse into a little known artistic tradition. These are artists struggling to express themselves and their cultural heritage using the materials at hand, and their creations are a stirring testimonial to their vision and aspiration. The exhibition presents the work of Black artists born between 1887 and 1965 who lived and worked in the American South. While many Black people fled to the north during the Great Migration of 1910 to 1970 these artists remained rooted in their communities and expressed themselves in paintings, sculptures, quilts and assemblages that incorporated scraps, used and abused articles, discarded and found objects. The repurposing of these undervalued and forsaken materials becomes a metaphor for the community's own journey. By reclaiming materials and imbuing of them with meaning and dignity, the artists share a powerful message of resilience, redemption and regeneration. The exhibition divide into four parts: Friendships and Family Ties, Personal Stories Local Sources, The Yard Show and The Quiltmakers of Gee's Bend. They all tell a story of community, passion and the empowerment of artistic creation. The work of Lonnie Holley, Thornton Dial and their protégés in the first gallery provides an excellent introduction to the exhibition which has some outstanding pieces. For us, particularly striking was the work of Archie Byron's Anatomy I (1987), Purvis Young's Untitled (Narrative Scene) (1980s) and Joe Minter's And He Hung His Head and Died (1999). Souls Grown Deep like the Rivers is a thought-provoking and inspiring insight into an artistic tradition and its expression of a community. It's a unique exhibition that is definitely worth a visit.

Rated: ★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Image: Lonnie Holley, Keeping a Record of It (Harmful Music), 1986 (detail). Souls Grown Deep Foundation, Atlanta. © ARS, NY and DACS, London 2022. Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio.

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