December 12, 2020 - December 5, 2021
Cargill Gallery
Free Exhibition

“We as a people of Africa have a story to tell about a journey of four hundred years here in America.” – Joe Minter

In the Presence of Our Ancestors: Southern Perspectives in African American Art” brings together methods of visual storytelling and ancestral memory through the individual practices of artists from the “Black Belt” region of the American South—a term that refers to the region’s black soil, as well as the legacies of African Americans who shaped its social and agrarian culture. Spanning from Louisiana to Florida, and the mid-20th century to the present, the artists highlighted in this exhibition document rural life and traditions of metalwork, funerary and yard art, and quilt making. Here, we witness an evolution of regional artistic practice, as raw materials and found objects related to time, place, and accessibility take center stage.

These artworks are sometimes called “folk” or “vernacular,” and the artists who made them labeled “self-taught.” Within the context of art museums, institutions rooted in colonial endeavors and oppression, such terms diminish the thoughtfulness and creative autonomy of both artwork and artist; for this reason, we do not use them here. The works speak for themselves, centering Black voices, material traditions, and visions.

We invite you to embark on a spiritual journey, experiencing the artworks and lives they connect us with from home.  

About the Souls Grown Deep Foundation

Founded in 2010 by the late collector and art historian William Arnett (1939–2020), the Souls Grown Deep Foundation is dedicated to documenting, preserving, and promoting the contributions of African American artists of the South and the cultural traditions in which they are rooted. Mia acquired 33 works in 2017 as part of the foundation’s initiative to introduce the collection to major museums across the nation. The foundation also collaborates with institutions each year to expand avenues of scholarship and professional development for college students of color. It prioritizes creative communal sustainability through grantmaking, artist’s rights, and more recently, Covid-19 relief and voting rights.

In honor of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation’s commitment to community, we recognize the contributions made by many to produce this exhibition. It is curated by inaugural Souls Grown Deep Foundation intern, Starasea Nidiala Camara, in collaboration with Mia’s BIPOC Curatorial Advisory Committee—Keisha Williams, Bayou Bay, Anniessa Antar, Tamira Amin, Frederica Simmons, Victoria Myers, Minna Jain, and Jeanine Pollard—with interpretation by visiting local artists through the Transcontinental Dialogue Project. A special thank-you goes to the 2019–2020 Souls Grown Deep Foundation intern cohort, and to the artists and their families who were such gracious hosts.

Major Sponsor:

Thornton Dial, American, 1928-2016. Royal Flag, 1997-1998, American flag, toy doll, toy bull, string, fabric, industrial sealing compound, oil, enamel, spray paint on canvas mounted on wood. The Ethel Morrison Van Derlip Fund and Gif of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation from the William S. Arnett Collection 2019.16.8