We Will Walk – Civil Rights art work

Exhibition set to explore the ongoing relationship between creative expression and civil rights

Nellie Mae Rowe, This World is Not My Home, 1979, photo Courtesy of the High Museum of Art

TURNER CONTEMPORARY will showcase the work of artists and makers from the Deep South in We Will Walk – Art and Resistance in the American South.

The exhibition is the first of its kind in the UK and reveals a little-known history shaped by the Civil Rights period in the 1950s and 60s. It will bring together sculptural assemblages, paintings and quilts by more than 20 African American artists from Alabama and surrounding states produced from the mid-20th century to the present, many of which will be coming to Europe for the first time. In an era of worldwide protest on the streets, We Will Walk addresses issues of race, class and resistance through a diverse range of works developed outside of the mainstream.

Freeman Vines, Souls Died to Talk to You, 2018, photo by Aaron Greenhood

The artists represented in the exhibition lived through the Civil Rights struggle and its aftermath, often in conditions of poverty. Some works are in direct dialogue with this era of protest, while others evidence the longstanding impact of segregation and racial

This art is characterised by the remaking and reuse of materials through necessity, custom, culture and innovation as well as a vital connection to place and nature.

Much of the work in We Will Walk draws on the tradition of the ‘Yard Show’, ephemeral outdoor environments made from salvaged materials.

This includes the root sculptures of Bessie Harvey and Emmer Sewell’s iconic sculpture created outside her home in Marion Country.  

The exhibition will see a series of quilts from the isolated hamlet of Gee’s Bend in Alabama go on display in the UK for the first time. Many of the inhabitants of Gee’s Bend (known today as Boykin) are descendants of people enslaved on the Pettway plantation. These world-famous quilts have a distinctive style, and are often made from recycling old clothing such as blue jeans. The exhibition also features a series of guitars by Freeman Vines, including one made from the wood of an old hanging tree. Vines’ work with the wood became more explicit in its imagery of pain and death as he discovered the story of Oliver Moore, the man who was lynched from the tree. These artists turned impossible circumstances into innovative artworks.

Freeman Vines, Yoruba Guitar, 2017, photo by Timothy Duffy

We Will Walk brings a new context to the works through music, documentation and the work of contemporary African American artists and thinkers including Kerry James Marshall and Angela Davis, who both migrated from Alabama. It will also feature Collins’ documentation of artists’ environments in situ. Unlike other exhibitions to have focused on this territory to date, the exhibition will provide a context for the artworks via the inclusion of archive material documenting Civil Rights events – both iconic and everyday.

Freeman Vines, Death Mask Guitar, 1967. photo by Timothy Duffy

Victoria Pomery OBE, Director of Turner Contemporary said: “These extraordinary artworks have been hugely influential on the language of subsequent artists. Bringing this exhibition to Margate highlights the global importance of creativity and its power to provoke change; fundamentally altering the course of an individual’s life, challenging social inequality and inspiring vital debate.”

February 7 – May 3

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