On the weekend of April 8th, the Mississippi Museum of Art (MMA) opened a new exhibit featuring work from 12 artists entitled, “A Movement in Every Direction: Legacies of The Great Migration”, co-curated by Ryan N. Dennis and Jessica Bell Brown. Themes of hope, family, belonging, agency, and legacy were the focus of events where artists got to engage with one another and the audience via forums, open discussions, and close viewings to gain a more nuanced understanding of the art, as well as, the hidden and overt histories that have compounded to give the exhibit its grounded context within the larger Black Diaspora.
Opening an exhibit like this in a place like Mississippi, just makes sense. Ask Black Mississippians and they can tell you that they have family all over the U.S. This exhibit helps us understand some of the perspectives and legacies of the people who initially made that journey away from places like Mississippi to new destinations, further explaining and expounding upon the who, what, when, where, and why of leaving; that’s if they left at all. For many of us, our southern, specifically Mississippian roots, run deep. No matter where the other branches of the family tree spread and bloom, Mississippi is home.
“It's a mental fabric that I was woven into. I’m a thread in a quilt. I can’t see the whole thing, but I can feel it.”
On Friday, April 8th, Dr. Ebony Lumumba moderated an amazing forum discussion between featured artist Zoe Charlton and Robert Pruitt where they were allowed to delve deep into the use and definition of “the archive” - a collection of records, in this context familial and personal histories - in relation to their work. When asked about his experiences with working with an archive to create new works, Pruitt said, “it's a mental fabric that I was woven into. I’m a thread in a quilt. I can’t see the whole thing, but I can feel it.” Pruitt explained how his family’s personal archive of photos alongside a found archive from his mother’s hometown of Dobbin, Texas helped to inspire this work by being a “liberating” experience. His own migration from Houston, Texas to New York City as a 40-year-old artist provided some new insights into understanding what he called the ‘sameness’ of the Black experience, “even if it's not my community exactly, I recognize it, I can see it for what it is.”
Zoe Charlton’s take on archival work gave the audience the opportunity to engage with the larger question, “what does it mean to be home”? As the child of an active service member, Charlton has traveled all over the U.S. and absorbed the varied experiences of Blackness within those unique settings. Her work features mixed media and motifs reflecting this upbringing. She described her process as, “looking for those moments of playfulness and where whimsy can come in.” Charlton calls herself a ‘drawer’ and uses her work to bring the viewer into conversation with what she says are “communities of space” and “mobile communities” through the use of motifs such as military, family, lineage, coupled with specific imagery such as her grandmother’s blue home that although foreign to the viewer communicates that familiarity of longing for one's ancestral home. Engaging with Charlton and Pruitt highlights the personal reflections that we can all see within the larger story of the Great Migration. By transposing the everyday stories and experiences of our familial archives we can begin to piece together the larger fabric that makes up the larger historical narrative.
“the archive can function as a mirror for the self… no matter who you think yourself to be ultimately, this is who you are.”
Other events of the weekend included more conversations between artists Carrie Mae Weems, Akea Brionne, Savannah Wood, and author Saidiya Hartman where they were able to discuss and interrogate the ways that we amass and carry our own personal histories by being the products of our lived experiences and the lessons taught to us by our families. Weems, who has roots in Mississippi and Arkansas, described the ways that archives can be flawed while recounting how her own grandfather was denied a suit against the state of Arkansas. She was quoted as saying, “... history is made in the everyday, by everyday people.” The conversation elaborated upon the exhibit’s significance of being housed at the Mississippi Museum of Art with notable quotes such as Brionne saying, “Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, … no matter where [we] go, the story is the same.” or offerings such as, “I was interested in the miracle and beauty of the Black ordinary…” The panel was also able to directly answer ‘Sipp Talk’s founder and CEO, Jasmine Williams’ question: “How can we recognize 'the archive' and participate in our own community storytelling?” A large part of the answer seemed to revolve around the recognition of those who have come before us and laid the foundation for the lives we currently lead. Its the box of old photos, the t-shirts from long over family reunions, the wrinkled pieces of paper stuffed in old bibles, the obituaries of family members and friends you’ll never meet but seem to know, the family recipes and traditions, the oral histories and stories we tell and retell. As Brionne stated, “the archive can function as a mirror for the self… no matter who you think yourself to be ultimately, this is who you are.”
The opening weekend for “Legacies of The Great Migration” left me with the lasting impression that the story of Black people seeking hope, opportunity, and agency is vital to Mississippi because we have been and always will be a place of grounding for the Black experience. We provide cultural context for the legacies that Black people all across America possess because the people and land here act as a sounding board, reflecting the varied experiences and layers that build up our past and lead us into our future. Themes of legacy, family, and hope found in this exhibit help to reiterate the legacy of Mississippi as a place where Blackness, despite what history may appear to tell us, is boundless no matter where we take it.
Get your tickets to the exhibit and learn more about the programming that the Mississippi Museum of Art has to offer using this link and be sure to tell them that 'Sipp Talk sent you! Join our subscription to stay connected to the creative community in Mississippi! See ticket information below!
Ticket information for exhibitions in the Donna and Jim Barksdale Galleries:
Free for Members
Free for children ages 5 and under
Free for K-12 students on Tuesdays thanks to Feild Corporation and on Thursdays thanks to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi.
Free for current Jackson State University and Tougaloo College students, faculty, and staff thanks to Hope Credit Union. Must show ID.
Free for current Mississippi State University students through MSU's Collegiate Program. Must show ID.
Free Sundays from April 10, 2022 - September 11, 2022