LOS ANGELES — My paternal grandmother died when I was five years old, before I could make a real memory of her. My recollections of her are glimpses of costume jewelry and the saccharine, milky coffee she drank. With my Grandma Bettie, I lost details of my family’s great migration, but I felt the South’s presence in my home through the stories my father told of his mother’s life in Waycross, Georgia. Having never visited, the small town’s influence still loomed in my life through this intergenerational lore.
At the California African American Museum (CAAM), Dust My Broom: Southern Vernacular from the Permanent Collection congregates a group of mostly self-taught artists from the American South and other Black artists profoundly influenced by it. (The exhibition’s name originates from the blues tune “Dust My Broom,” the phrase itself stemming from the Depression-era South, meaning to get up and go with no intent to come back.)
The exhibition brings rightful shine to these artists, celebrating the minor victories of daily Southern life in the face of glaring racial injustices buoyed by Jim Crow over generations. This cohort of mostly outsider artists is shown alongside the likes of Betye Saar and David Hammons, both deeply inspired by Southern aesthetics, ruminating on American racism and its roots in the South, which then writhed across the rest of the nation.
In this convening of vernacular art, you’ll often find the application of found objects and nods to domestic work in the brilliant use of textile. Throughout Dust My Broom, the artists’ works speak with one another with earthy hues and cerulean blues, like bright skies and coastal waters.
The narrow entrance to the exhibition is lined by folk paintings, precious and small, by artists like Purvis Young and Sam Doyle. Inside the gallery, a vitrine houses Nellie Mae Rowe’s statuettes made of chewing gum. A wall text explains the Georgian artist gave gum to the children in her neighborhood on one condition: they were to return the chewed wads when they were through. Simultaneously grotesque and whimsical, the miniatures made from the hardened candy, decorated with paint, buttons, and beads, offer absurd but quaint talismanic figurines.
Southern Christianity and ancestral spirituality are also guiding themes in Dust My Broom. Dominique Moody’s striking, imposing shrine, “Ancestral Praise House,” pieces together natural materials — shells of all sorts and sizes, geodes, and seaweed — to recreate the prayer homes built and used by coastal Gullah women. She creates a mosaic out of salvaged mirror and stained glass from firebombed churches — shards fragmented by targeted racial violence — which form an interpretation of sea and sun, intertwined with silhouettes of ancestral spirits reaching toward the sky.
Another strong standout by Moody, “Reunion” offers a family, their figures collaged together, tight-knit under the protection of an umbrella, with tear-shaped droplets of crystal rain falling around them as they clasp at each other with loving hands, pulling closer.
Standing tall and gorgeously assured on the gallery floor is Allison Saar’s divine female figure, “Foison” (2011), tearing herself open to reveal cotton and moths bounded within her indigo interior, symbolic of embedded generational trauma and memory of slavery, the agriculture central to American infrastructure and economics through the oft-forgotten labor of slaves.
Dust My Broom is lyrical in its ability to sing the history of an oppressed people. I walked away from it considering the evergreen idea that your ancestors’ experiences are inextricable from your own; their wisdom is inherent, patiently revealing itself as your life proceeds. The artists featured — whether raised in the American South or deeply affected by their generational ties to it as Black Americans — parse their intimately personal and collective histories. Black Americans are often seen as a community without a culture, without a country; our culture is often trivialized or erased. In their acts of creative defiance and affection, these artists uplift it with their praise.
Dust My Broom: Southern Vernacular from the Permanent Collection, curated by Mar Hollingsworth, continues at the California African American Museum (600 State Drive, Exposition Park, Los Angeles) through March 15.
The Los Angeles-based photographer offers an updated version of the mythologized American cowboy, calling rodeos “the traditional drag of America.”
At its core Line Berg’s Fra Far manifests the anguish of a family whose loved one is convicted of a serious crime.
The Newark Museum of Art Presents Jazz Greats: Classic Photographs from the Bank of America Collection
Photographers Antony Armstrong Jones, Milt Hinton, Chuck Stewart, Barbara Morgan, and more capture a breadth of legendary and local musicians and performance artists. On view through August 21.
At first, simply watching people read In Search of Lost Time might seem dull; by the end, you’ll be itching to read or reread it yourself.
Duniyana Al-Amour was one of at least 44 Palestinians killed in Israel’s latest attack on Gaza.
Art and photographs, publications from the 19th and 20th centuries, manuscripts, posters and more are set to cross the auction block on August 18.
It is the first national museum in England to agree to restitute looted Benin items, increasing pressure on the British Museum to do the same.
The footprints, discovered on the salt flats of a US Air Force training site, are believed to date back to the last Ice Age.
An extraordinary variety of artists came to Jon Swihart and Kim Merrill’s backyard potlucks, discussing not just their work, but also the events and challenges of their lives.
With A Lion for Every House at the Art Institute of Chicago, Floating Museum riffs wildly on the art rental programs of some museums.
A Thing for the Mind takes Philip Guston’s 1978 painting “Story” as a starting point to examine the myriad ways in which this piece has filtered into the work of other painters.