African-American artists have been inspired by a rich heritage that encompasses tragedy and triumph, resistance and persistence, laughter and regret. But of all the territory covered in their vast and varied explorations, there's no place like the South. Seldom has a region evoked such a range of emotions — from loathing, to longing, to the bittersweet recognition that struggle often gives birth to strength.
"Southern Journeys: African American Artists of the South" is a traveling exhibition that opens Thursday at Gallery 210 at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. It captures some of those emotions with visual splendor. Organized by the Stella Jones Gallery in New Orleans, the exhibition includes work by such celebrated figures as Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence and Faith Ringgold, as well as pieces by lesser-known painters, sculptors and other visual artists.
"It's an extraordinary survey," said Terry Suhre, director of Gallery 210. "Its premise is that it looks to artists who are either from the South, or are reflecting on their family's Southern roots."
The exhibition is co-curated by Eloise Johnson, former curator and educational specialist of the Southern University Museum of Art in Baton Rouge, La., and gallery owner Stella Jones.
"Southern Journeys" is intended in part to call attention to artists who have been overlooked, either because they aren't associated with the New York scene or because their work is figurative (that is, clearly recognizable) rather than abstract.
"Most African-American artists tend to want to tell a story in a figurative style," Johnson said.
Three generations of artists are represented: those who created work from the 1930s through the 1950s; those who careers coincided with the movements for civil rights in the 1960s and black power in the 1970s; and those who emerged more recently and whose work may be classified as postmodernist.
Jones said her goal in preparing the exhibition for the road was to "really showcase Southern art, because it rarely happens away from the South."
"Southern Journeys" is very much in keeping with Gallery 210's artistic mission, Suhre said.
"The gallery is committed to presenting contemporary art that's seldom seen in the St. Louis metropolitan area," he said. "And this was impossible to pass up."