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Southbound: Photographs of and about the New South

September 4, 2019

The Power Plant Gallery and the Forum for Scholars and Publics, in collaboration with the Gregg Museum of Art & Design at NC State University, present Southbound: Photographs of and about the New South.

By Forum staff

Southbound Flyer

The exhibition was curated by Mark Sloan and Mark Long of the College of Charleston School of the Arts and debuted in Charleston in the Spring of 2019.

In North Carolina, you can catch the exhibit at the Power Plant Gallery from September 6 through December 21 and at the Gregg Museum from December 5 through December 29. Check out the full schedule of events.

To adapt the exhibit for the two North Carolina sites, the photos have been organized for display by author Randall Kenan, whose acclaimed literary works include fiction, memoir, folklore, and journalism. One of the premier chroniclers of the complexities of African American experience in the U.S. South, Kenan’s capacity to find the big story in the small detail in his writing has translated beautifully to the visual medium of photography. His vision for the exhibition, revolving around the themes of Flux and Home, has enriched our ability to find stories and connections across the many topics, places, and photographic styles on display in Southbound.

FLUX: Nostalgia vs. the Future

What was so good about the good old days? Were people better? Or better off? Did food taste better? Were the presidents smarter? And what of our smart phones and quantum computers, and what of the first female Indian American president who will come from one of the old confederate states? Probably. Where does change fit into our lives?

At the center.

The American South was about change the very day Hernando DeSoto landed on the Southern shores with a ship with a belly full of hogs. The day the first slave ship landed in a Virginia harbor. The day Thomas Jefferson bought land west of the Mississippi River from Napoleon.

The ideas and problems which have dogged the South from the beginning are still afoot: race and the legacy of slavery; the bloody blunder that was secession and the Civil War; a powerful fondness for Jesus and the Protestant religion; a particular food culture tied directly to the agricultural bounty that sprang from that very landscape.

There was the horror of Jim Crow and lynching. There was crushing poverty that persevered for decades and still does in some corners.

All that time the South was a central part of America, defining the very idea of America in some ways. Novelist Albert Murray once called Southerners the "Ur-Americans." (South to a Very Old Place.) People have been talking about “the New South” since the Reconstruction Era.

Knowing the true past is a virtue; clearly seeing the future is a gift.

The New South is now.

—GUEST CURATOR RANDALL KENAN

Call & Response

Writing Inspired by Southbound

Southbound Call & Response Anthology

In our frequent collaborations, the Forum for Scholars and Publics and the Power Plant Gallery aim to create conversations in the gaps, to think about the questions and topics that might be inspired by an exhibit, that often exist in the shadows in and around the works of art. Inspired by the poetry Nikky Finney composed for Southbound in Charleston and by the engagement of Randall Kenan as curator here in North Carolina, we have created Call & Response, a forum where writers respond to selected photographs. This continues our tradition of inviting community members — artists, writers, activists, journalists, scholars — to help us engage in a deeper exploration of issues and themes raised by an exhibit.

For our Call & Response series, we reached out to nearly a dozen writers with North Carolina ties. We asked each writer to select a photograph to inspire their writing, after which the photograph was removed from consideration by other writers. We’re grateful for the generous and enthusiastic responses we received, and we’ve been moved by the work the writers have contributed.

Contributors represent a range of genres, including poetry, songwriting, fiction, and nonfiction. The writers hail from all over the state of North Carolina, some having lived here their whole lives and others having arrived more recently. Some are well-known authors while others are on their way to establishing themselves among the South’s literary stars. We’re honored to be able to present their work here:

 

McNair Evans, Wedding Silver

By Kelly Alexander

On Silver & Ghosts

This is a photograph about ghosts. It is about the ghosts of family suppers past. It depicts the way in which some Southern families value all of the aspects of sitting down to a meal.

Keep Reading

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Daniel Beltrá, Oil Spill #4

By Belle Boggs

When the Deepwater Horizon Exploded

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill unfolded, for me, on television news—like that other terrible Gulf breach, the abandonment of New Orleans’s people following Hurricane Katrina.

Keep Reading

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Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick, Big Chief Allison "Tootie" Montana" and the Yellow Pocahontas Indian Gang

By Kofi Boone

Collisions of Race and Place

The recent passing of acclaimed author Toni Morrison compelled me to revisit this stunning image with fresh eyes. Morrison’s writings are imbued with characters and settings that grapple with the human condition.

Keep Reading

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McNair Evans, Christmas Morning, 2009

By El'Ja (LeJuane) Bowens

Solitaire (Solitary)

Funny how life works sometimes

You find yourself arranging all the cards life gives you to your advantage

Just to use them all up

Keep Reading & Listen Along

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Susan Worsham, Max with Papaya, 2011

By Ina Cariño

alone / together

every day I try to secret the ruffle / of starling feathers into jars / but fail each time / I think they mimic those / of angels / plush & seedy / like rumpled coverlets flapping / in the wind

Keep Reading & Listen Along

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Matt Eich, Fire Hose Baptism, 2013

By Tyree Daye

& the beloveds emerged one by one

we stand in the light

                        praise openly
for days we rattle with an old song

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Deborah Luster, Levelle Tolliver, #406570, Judas, 2013

By Jaki Shelton Green

no poetry

no poetry for these hands. no poetry for these trees. no poetry for these men. no poetry for the time you chase. no poetry for dreams that hold you hostage.

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Jerry Siegel, Shooter, Dallas County, Alabama, 2007

By Malinda Maynor Lowery

The Southern Fabric

In 2019, the Confederate flag triggers me like it never has before. This photo fulfills my wish to destroy that which abuses us on a daily basis, so much abuse and so quotidian as to seem normal, part of the southern fabric.

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Lucinda Bunnen, Dixie Dogs, 2014

By Michael Ramos

We Are More Than Our Past

This is the real south, isn’t it? All rust and decay, a fenced-in collection of humid days and sun-baked junk overgrown and unkempt, its glory days long past. You can almost hear the hum of the heat beetle, the growl of a guard dog defending its precious Dixie, oblivious to its disrepair keeping everyone out, even those who don’t want in.

Keep Reading

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Eliot Dudik, Alligator Alley, Oregon Road, 2010

By Kamara Thomas

Endurance

Black rubber tire leviathan
Snake inking under tar-bend

Ode to trees of swamp
Soaking, stinking of Styx and Acheron

Keep Reading & Listen Along

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Southbound: Photographs of and about the New South is presented by the Power Plant Gallery in collaboration with Duke’s Forum for Scholars and Publics and the Gregg Museum of Art & Design at North Carolina State University. In this iteration, guest curator Randall Kenan, author and NC native, organizes the many framed photographs of the exhibition around the twin themes of Flux, on display at the Power Plant Gallery, and Home, on display at the Gregg Museum. The full program of events includes slow tours, film screenings, “Sit + Chat” sessions, and FSP@PPG panel discussions that engage with the issues in and around the works of art and explore the topics, places, and styles of Southbound. Southbound: Photographs of and about the New South was organized by the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston School of the Arts in Charleston, South Carolina, and curated by Mark Long and Mark Sloan. Visit the exhibit online at southboundproject.org.