Thirteen artists with ties to the South commissioned to create new works across media
(BALTIMORE – May 11, 2021) —The Mississippi Museum of Art (MMA) and the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) today announced the co-organization of a major exhibition that will unveil newly commissioned works by 13 of the most acclaimed African American artists working today examining the profound impact of the Great Migration on the social and cultural life of the United States. Co-curated by Ryan N. Dennis (she/her), MMA Chief Curator and Artistic Director of the Museum’s Center for Art and Public Exchange, and Jessica Bell Brown, BMA Associate Curator of Contemporary Art, the project will include new works across media by the following artists:
The resulting exhibition, titled A Movement in Every Direction: Legacies of the Great Migration, will open at the MMA in April 2022 and at the BMA in October 2022.
The historic phenomenon known as the Great Migration saw more than six million African Americans leave the South for cities across the United States at the start of the 20th century and well into the 1970s. This incredible movement of people transformed nearly every aspect of Black life, in both rural towns and urban metropolises. The impact of the Great Migration spurred a flourishing Black culture and also established a new cadre of artists, writers, musicians, and makers. With this project, the co-organizing institutions bring together a group of intergenerational artists with ancestral ties to the South to research and reflect on their personal histories and migration narratives through the lens of their contemporary practices.
“We asked artists to journey with us to explore their connections to the South, and to ruminate on migration, ancestry, land, and how such themes influence their movement in the world as artists. The project is grounded in a key prompt: ‘What would happen if today’s leading artists were given the space to think about the intersections of the Great Migration in a wholistic, expansive, and dynamic way?’ The exhibition will attend to and complicate histories of racial violence, trauma, and socio-economic exigency, while also examining the agency seized by those who fled as well as those who stayed behind,” said Dennis and Brown. “In many ways, the story of the Great Migration is neither complete in its current telling nor finished in its contemporary unfolding. We invited artists, whose practices deal with personal and communal histories, familial ties, the Black experience, and the ramifications of land ownership and environmental shifts, among so much more, to consider how we can expand our understanding of this essential moment in American history. We look forward to considering further the Great Migration through their vibrant stories of resilience, self-determination, and transformation.”
In addition to the exhibition, the project will include the creation of a two-volume publication, the first which will encompass a critical reader highlighting pivotal scholarly work around all aspects of the Great Migration, from the shaping of American cities to its impact on Black spirituality, music, art, and culture. The second volume will have a capsule-like focus on the exhibition content, including curatorial essays, artist entries, and newly commissioned essays by leading writers Kiese Laymon, Jessica Lynne, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, and Dr. Willie J. Wright.
Betsy Bradley, Executive Director of the Mississippi Museum of Art, said, “The concept for this project evolved from MMA colleagues in conversation with African American artists around the country who noted that some of their forebears came from Mississippi or that their families still own land here. Their curiosity about family stories synced with the Museum’s desire for an honest investigation of the state’s history and to engage with artists who have a relationship, even metaphorically, with the state. We discovered that either the memories or stories are imprinted on many artists’ imaginations, and that this rings true about other Deep South states as well. Ultimately, it’s about our desire to form connections of shared experience and the making of new memories through the creative processes of these eminent artists. It is clear that we will understand ourselves better as a result of these artists’ investigations. And the works that result will inspire more truth-telling and connections and reveal new narratives about the Great Migration and its ongoing impact. We look forward to continuing to work with our BMA colleagues to celebrate the South as a vital and enduring source of artistic expression and achievement.”
“This project offers an opportunity to re-consider the history of the Great Migration as we know it and to tell a more multifaceted and nuanced narrative through the voices and work of some of the most influential artists of our time. It is also a particularly meaningful project for our community in Baltimore, which was and continues to be shaped by this critical migration of people,” said Christopher Bedford, the BMA’s Dorothy Wagner Wallis Director. “I am delighted to work with the MMA, our brilliant curators, and the infinitely talented group of participating artists on this project, and look forward to the ways in which the exhibition will teach us more about the past, further contextualize our present, and illuminate new paths for the future.”
The MMA and BMA will also create a range of digital assets tied to the exhibition for their websites, allowing visitors unable to see the show in person to experience the depth and scope of this project remotely. Additional presenting venues are also currently under discussion and will be announced at a later date.