Brandon Donahue

Black Artists Respond to Confederate Flag Imagery in Artwork in Nashville Scene

Laura Hutson, arts editor for Nashville Scene is publishing interviews with Black artists from the region. She asks them to respond to the controversy around Sheila B.’s “Southern Motel” painting, which was taken down at Acme Feed & Seed two weeks ago.

First, she talks to Donna Woodley, a Memphis-born, Nashville-based artist who is currently pursuing an MFA in Boston. Hutson asks Woodley what she would say to Sheila B. if she could attend Friday’s forum. “If she were there,” Woodley says, “I would like to think that she’d give a little about her background. I would like to know what the Confederate flag as a symbol meant for her growing up. Just to kind of get an idea of where her head is as far as including the image in her work. I would really listen closely to that.”

(Hutson also reports that Sheila B. will not be attending the forum, as she will be out of town.)

John Sims',

John Sims’, “The Proper Way to Hang a Confederate Flag” at Schmucker Gallery, Gettysburg.

Hutson will be publishing interviews with John Sims and Brandon Donahue soon, so keep checking in with her on Country Life. Sims is a fascinating artist; check out his Recoloration Proclamation, in which he re-colors the Confederate flag and others. Sims is bold and meticulous. According to Stephen Tragreser of the Scene, he used Dred Scott’s What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag? piece from the 80s as a springboard for a new work called The Proper Way to Hang a Confederate Flag. Sims hung it from a gallows with a noose. Once you start looking, examples of Black artists using the flag to make statements about racial strife in America abound. I hope this will be part of the discussion at Friday’s forum.

This evening, a few of my friends posted an essay on social media called “I, Racist” by John Metta. Metta delivered the essay to a white congregation at Bethel Congregational United Church of Christ on Sunday, June 28th. If I could name a required reading for the forum on Confederate flag imagery in artwork, this would be it! Metta breaks down white privilege and white fragility so simply, even for us thick-headed white folks who don’t spend much time considering ways that we’ve benefited from the oppression of people of color in America. Metta’s sermon hits its crest with this point:

“Here’s what I want to say to you: Racism is so deeply embedded in this country not because of the racist right-wing radicals who practice it openly, it exists because of the silence and hurt feelings of liberal America.”

This calling of white America has been happening for years. Black people have been telling us this our whole lives, but we haven’t listened. Let’s stop being offended and start listening. Props to Laura Hutson for her contributions to the conversation.

Selvage at TSU with Photo Gallery

DSC01575Cold days are upon us, but there’s still time to head over to TSU to warm up with a textile art show that will put your needle-felted kittens to shame. Curated by artist and TSU curator Jodi Hays and Scene arts editor Laura Hutson, Selvage explores the possibilities of textiles. The works range from paintings riffing on the geometry of quilting patterns to reuse collage to art made within the canvas itself.

My favorites: Alex Blau’s super shiny wrapped canvases delighted me as a quilter (shout out to the sawtooth star!). While the designs are more traditional, she uses the color palette of a candy aisle. Jovencio de la Paz’s monster indigo tapestry came just shy of stealing the show. The wall-sized piece is printed with intriguing images: transparent cubes, hands, bones, and drawings suggesting the occult name just a few, giving it a spooky yet playful feel.

Gabriel Pionkowski’s work captured my heart the most. He un-weaves canvases and dyes or paints the fabric, sometimes one string at a time. Then, he reweaves it entirely or partially, sometimes flipping it around or leaving some threads unraveled. I loved this play with materials, and I felt it best represented the kind of play inherent in textile art: it’s not craft hour, after all. There’s something that’s got to be meditative about the process that lends itself to an enlightened state.

Brandon Donahue’s “Basketball Blooms” wall sculptures are wonderful: part hip hop, part folk art, they’re floral arrangements made from cut up basketballs. Aimee Miller’s two pieces are beauties: she dyes material, tears it up, and clusters it in forms. It kind of looks like the monsters from Labyrinth exploded on the wall, in a really good way.

Finally, Nashville’s Courtney Adair Johnson assembled ten years of work in an installation. She works completely in reuse materials. She pointed out parts of the assemblage that are attached to memories, while others are much more random. I loved so many bits of the installation, especially the pink Eraserhead-fetus picture that she lovingly described as a portrait of her dog. Her setup spoke to me as well. She marked off her installation with tape, but it pushed out of the edges and on to the floor, much like our collective deposits of trash that are steadily growing. Johnson has a lot coming up, so stay tuned.

The gallery itself is not the best space, but the duo played with it, choosing to hang Louis Schmidt’s black and white geometrical drawings on the same wall as an unsightly grid. They opted to skip tags identifying the work, which sort of bugs me because I always want to know what I’m looking at, and a bit of context helps me to connect with a work. With that said, Hutson and Hays made a great team, and I hope they’ll work together again. More so, I’m excited to to see Huston evolve as a curator. Her interest in Outsider Art and tolerance for the perverse always delights me.

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Note: TSU’s campus is enormous. Follow theses directions.

From I – 40 West Exit.
1. Exit I-40 West to 28th Avenue, North.
2. Proceed to and continue through Traffic Light at corner of 28th Avenue North and Jefferson St./John A. Merritt Blvd.
3. Continue on 28th Avenue which becomes Ed Temple Blvd*. Go to Second Traffic Light after crossing Jefferson St./John A. Merritt Blvd. (third traffic light from Interstate exit).
4. Turn Left onto Walter S. Davis Blvd; continue for approximately 1 mile to Traffic Light.
5. Turn Left at Traffic Light onto 39th Avenue, North; and, proceed to Stop sign (John L. Driver Blvd.).
6. Turn Left onto John L. Driver Blvd. and proceed to Visitor Parking Lot (on Left, next to Heating Facility – tall Smoke Stack).
7. Proceed to Elliot Hall (just beyond Heating Facility), either taking walkway perpendicular to 37th Avenue, continuing the path of John L. Driver Blvd., you’ll find it to your Left. If you walk to the amphitheatre you have gone a bit too far.

From I – 40, East.
1. Exit I-40, East at Exit 207.
2. Turn Left onto Jefferson Street at the bottom of the Exit ramp.
3. Proceed to first Traffic Light (intersection of Jefferson St./John Merritt and 28th Avenue, North/Ed Temple Blvd*.
4. Turn Right onto Ed Temple Blvd.
5.Proceed to second Traffic Light and Turn Left onto Walter S. Davis Blvd.
6.Take L at light onto John L. Driver Blvd. and proceed as described in nos. 6 and 7 above.

From Clarksville Highway (US 41-A, N/8th Avenue/RoseParks, North/Metro Center Blvd.)
1. Turn onto Ed Temple Blvd. (or proceed straight across to Ed Temple Blvd* from 8th Avenue, North/Metro Center Blvd.). Go past Golf course to Second Traffic Light.
2.Turn Right onto Walter S. Davis, then a Left onto TigerBelle, Art Department at the top of the hill in Elliott Hall on 37th Street.

*Note that Ed Temple Blvd. is renamed Metro Center Blvd, just down from Watkins College of Art and Design