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“Dirty South” Exhibit Recognizes Enduring Impact of Black Southern Art

building in distance
Travis Fullerton - Virginia Muse
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, as seen from the E. Claiborne and Lora Robins Sculpture Garden. (Photo: Virginia Museum of Fine Art/CC 4.0)

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’s new exhibit, Dirty South, examines the impact of 20th Century Black art and culture on the southern region of the United states.

Hip hop fans will recognize the name, which is shared with an explosive ‘90s hip hop movement that came out of the south. But the exhibition curator, Valerie Cassel Oliver, says the term applies to a variety of artistic and cultural expressions.

“A lot of people have known about the Dirty South. I've known about the Dirty South pre hip hop, and it just meant all the things that the soil holds inside of it,” she says. “In the south, it is about the earth, it's about what the earth reveals, it's about what it contains, historically, it's about who walked the earth, it's about who worked the earth, it's about the anonymous bodies that are buried there.”

The multiple meanings Dirty South has seamlessly fits the themes found throughout the exhibit: landscape, spirituality and the Black body.

These overarching themes help create modern African American southern art and culture. Art that has heavily influenced modernism and contemporary worldwide.

“Here we are in the United States, and we have things like folk art from the African American South, '' Oliver said. “And that's rarely if ever really acknowledged as any sort of influence on modernism, especially American modernism, that the origins of that kind of aesthetic tradition comes out of America, and comes out of the South.”

Artists, professors and other experts will be expanding on this worldwide influence, the themes presented and the art itself through the exhibit’s speaker’s series.

The exhibit will be open through Sept. 6. Tickets are available in person or on the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Website. 

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