The Nasher Museum of Art explores the definition of Southern culture

Stepping into the bright, elevated, and somewhat cavernous lobby of the Nasher Museum of Art is a truly enchanting moment for any connoisseur of fine art or weekend gallery viewer. This fall the Nasher houses two delightful exhibits focused on both historical and contemporary culture.

“Southern Accent: Seeking the American South in Contemporary Art” is an extensive collection of mixed media pieces that explores the defining factors that make something truly Southern. The works of 60 artists have been compiled to form an overwhelming assemblage of sculptures, paintings, collages, murals, and films. These pieces display strong opinions about the deeply questioned geographic space that is the south. In their exploration of race, sexuality, and religion, the individual pieces vary widely. Addressing both the positive and the negative perceptions of the American South, this colossal exhibit allows the viewer to redefine their view of the area.

The exhibit is solidified by the use of an abstraction originating from the Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner. He states that the South is less of a place and more of an idea. This is clearly exemplified by the different viewpoints and opinions which are on display, the multi-perspective analysis of southern culture, politics, and landscapes allows anyone to both re-affirm what they previously understood, while inevitably leaving with an altogether new perception of what the concept of the American South means. Because of the diverse areas included in the South, it is quite transparently not a characterized region, but instead a collection of descriptions which can be combined to form: the American South. The contemporary artwork is precise, rough, vibrant, and at times melancholy. Photographs of Ku Klux Klan rallies in Chapel Hill are placed next to exuberant watercolor paintings of Louisiana wildlife. A frayed and dishevelled Confederate flag rests on a perch adjacent to a portrait of perturbed looking African-American men with cotton candy in their hands. The juxtaposition of themes helps exemplify William Faulkner’s concept. This collection is essential viewing for anyone who lives in the South and wants to learn more about the evolving culture of the region.

The Nasher’s standing collection galleries featured a new exhibit: “Kara Walker: Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War,” a collection of 19th century Civil War scenes with Walker’s characteristic black silhouettes superimposed on top of them. The 15 prints discuss the evolution of African-American culture in our society, while also refuting stereotypical viewpoints and myths surrounding African-Americans in the U.S. The piece focuses most specifically on the legacy of slavery and its impact on the country today. Using eerie, mysterious, and sometimes uncomfortable depictions, Walker forces the viewer to consider the uncomfortable aspects of our society that remain as a result of slavery’s existence.

These two collections are delightful to view in succession. The well rounded and engaging exhibits expertly provoke thought and retrospection, while also maintaining a keen attention to detail and form, these exhibits are well rounded and quite engaging to view, especially if you are with others to discuss the themes and ideas with.

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