Since 2010, through donations of art to museums and other means, the Souls Grown Deep Foundation has advocated tirelessly for the inclusion of the neglected work of Black artists of the rural South in the canon of American art history—without, as Elizabeth Pochoda wrote in the pages of this magazine, “the usual diminishing labels of outsider, folk, self-taught, outlier, or whatever.”
Highlights from one of the foundation’s most recent gifts will go on view early this year in the exhibition In the Presence of Our Ancestors: Southern Perspectives in African American Art at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. The show includes work from some familiar artists: that of the magnificent quiltmakers of Gee’s Bend, Alabama; complex, layered assemblages by Thornton Dial and Ronald Lockett; provocative sculpture made of found objects by Birmingham’s Joe Minter. And there are creations by lesser-known artists such as the Florida wood carver Jesse Aaron and John B. Murray of Georgia, who drew and painted talismanic abstractions on everything from paper and wall paneling to a television set and an automobile windshield.
Writer and art collector Bill Arnett, who founded Souls Grown Deep, passed away in Atlanta last August at age eighty-one. Exhibitions such as this—and his organization’s ongoing community support programs in the rural South—are a testament to his enduring legacy of generosity and human decency.
In the Presence of Our Ancestors: Southern Perspectives in African American Art • Minneapolis Institute of Art • opens early 2021 • artsmia.org