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Aleesa Alexander on Black Codes: The Art of Post-Civil Rights Alabama

November 18, 2019 - 5:30pm to 7:00pm
Oshman Hall, McMurtry Building


The Department of Art & Art History presents Aleesa Alexander, Assistant Curator of American Art at the Cantor Arts Center, who will speak on "Black Codes: The Art of Post-Civil Rights Alabama."

Within the discipline of art history, the terms “outsider,” “folk,” or “self-taught” have been historically applied to artists who have worked outside of prevailing institutional structures. Such classifications have often marginalized the artistic production of untrained, working-class African American artists in the twentieth century, particularly in the Southern United States. This talk reframes the discussion of Southern black art as a thoroughly modern and contemporary phenomenon, grounded in specific material and social conditions that, far from isolated, have instead engendered rich artistic communities. It does so by taking as a case study the Birmingham-Bessemer School, a group of male artists working in postindustrial Alabama in the decades following the Civil Rights movement. Though excluded from primary narratives of American modernism, the artistic production of Lonnie Holley (b. 1950), Thornton Dial (1928-2016), Joe Minter (b. 1943), and Ronald Lockett (1965-1998) contest received histories of modern artistic production, including, but not limited to: found object assemblage, site-specific installation, and nonrepresentational painting. In an effort to remove Southern black art from mythologizing narratives of isolated genius or quaint, folk production, this presentation situates the Birmingham-Bessemer School as a challenge to longstanding regional centers of modern and contemporary art in the United States.

Aleesa Pitchamarn Alexander is assistant curator of American Art at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University. Her research and curatorial interests include the artistic production of the American South, the relationship between race and modernism, and the history of “outsider” and self-taught art. At the Cantor, she curated the reinstallation of the permanent collection, The Medium Is the Message: Art since 1950 (2019), and serves as the institutional point person for the Asian American Art Initiative. From 2017-2018 she was a Jane and Morgan Whitney Fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she assisted with the exhibitions History Refused to Die: Highlights from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation Gift and Odyssey: Jack Whitten Sculpture, 1963-2017 (both 2018). Her research has been supported by the Center for Craft, Creativity, and Design, the American Craft Council, and the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts. Alexander received her Ph.D. in art history from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 2018.

Image: Thornton Dial, Used to Be Home, 2013. Mixed media on canvas.

VISITOR INFORMATION: Oshman Hall is located in the McMurtry Building on the Stanford campus at 355 Roth Way. Visitor parking is free after 4 pm on weekdays, except by the Oval. Alternatively, take the Caltrain to Palo Alto Transit Center and ride the free Stanford Marguerite Shuttle.

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