Please join us for artist’s talk by Lee Ann Harrison-Houser at 7 pm on Thursday, September 19.
The Richardson Family Art Museum in the Rosalind Sallenger Richardson Center for the Arts features Southern Gothic: Literary Intersections with Art from the Johnson Collection, Props: Personal identities in the Portrait Photography of Richard Samuel Roberts and LaToya Ruby Frazier and “The Notion of Family” until December 14.
With works drawn exclusively from the Johnson Collection, Southern Gothic illuminates how nineteenth- and twentieth-century artists employed a potent visual language to transcribe the tensions between the South’s idyllic aura and its historical realities. Often described as a mood or sensibility rather than a strict set of thematic or technical conventions, features of the Southern Gothic can include horror, romance, and the supernatural. While academic painters such as Charles Fraser and Thomas Noble conveyed the genre’s gloomy tonalities in their canvases, Aaron Douglas and Harry Hoffman grappled with the injustices of a modern world. Other artists, including Alexander Brook and Eugene Thomason, investigated prevailing stereotypes of rural Southerners—a trope often accentuated in Southern Gothic literature. Collectively, these images demonstrate that definitions of the Gothic are neither monolithic nor momentary, inviting us, instead to contemplate how the Southern Gothic legacy continues to inform our understanding of the American South.
Richard Samuel Roberts was an African-American artist who opened a photography studio in Columbia SC in 1922. For the next 14 years, he took portraits of Columbia’s citizens, writing “No other gift causes so much real and lasting joy as the gift of your photograph.” In these works, the subjects wear carefully-chosen clothes and often hold or appear next to important objects or props. The term “props” brings to mind the objects used in the theater that help establish the meaning of a scene. In this theater context, the word is shortened from “properties,” things collectively owned by a theater group. But can the term also reflect the notion that props show “properties” of a character, offering layers of information and meaning to viewers? In this show, we can analyze the way that the props—presumably objects chosen by the sitters themselves—tell us something about the self-identity of the sitters. “Props” is sometimes used as a slang term, meaning “proper respect,” and the objects seen in these photos, including the clothing choices, often highlight the respect due the sitters for their attainments. But the intentionally-selected objects and apparel also give insights—in an otherwise very formulaic genre—into the inner desires of the sitters. Props thus can do two very different things: underscore socially-agreed upon ideals, or, perhaps conversely, help us see beyond the surface of an image. The photographs in the exhibit are on loan from the Columbia Museum of Art, Columbia, SC.
Photographer LaToya Ruby Frazier was looking at a history of her hometown of Braddock, PA, and noticed that the book omitted African-Americans entirely. Her 2014 series of photographs “The Notion of Family,” from which the three works in this show are taken, is her resistance to the “continued omission, erasure, invisibility and silence surrounding African-American sacrifices to Braddock and the American grand narrative.” By including herself in the photographs, Frazier moves the work beyond traditional social documentary photography, in which, generally, an outsider records the concerns of another. Instead, in these images, Frazier and her family work together to document their history, and that interaction seems to offer some hope, showing that even as governments may turn aside, families provide support for each other. Frazier’s photography points out the way America has scaled back the understanding of family to apply only to biological connectedness, to the detriment of us all. Wielding her camera, as she says, as “a weapon” of change, performing and collaborating with her family and her community, Frazier resets a narrative and retells a history, actively.
The Richardson Family Art Gallery features Otherness²: Hiding in Plain Sight until October 12, featuring the recent works by Lee Ann Harrison-Houser.
Otherness²: Hiding in Plain Sight explores the outsider’s perspectives and the impact of “Othering.” During the creative process, Harrison-Houser pursues authenticity and begins to reveal untold stories in her work. However, she instinctively hides within the mark-making with her use of symbolism, sgraffito, and abstraction. Layer after layer of gesso and paint erase her disclosures. Subsequently, the art installation shares these stories only in a type of Hide-and-Seek game for the viewer. For deeper connections, the viewer physically moves to a separate space to match the conceptual titles back to the abstract squares. Through this physical movement and mindfulness, the storyteller role shifts away from the artist and moves to the viewer to create awareness, conversation, and the momentum for change.
Museum and Gallery hours:
Tues. Wed. Fri. & Sat.: 1-5 p.m.
Thurs.: 1-9 p.m.
Sun. & Mon.: Closed
For more information, please contact 864-597-4940 or ThomasMH@wofford.edu.