Last Updated on February 2, 2023

Souls Grown Deep Foundation & Community Partnership (SGD) has announced its first international curatorial partnership, collaborating with the Royal Academy of Arts in London on its exhibition Souls Grown Deep Like the Rivers: Black Artists from the American South, March 17 through June 18, 2023. Curated by SGD curator Raina Lampkins-Fielder and Royal Academy Secretary and Chief Executive Axel Rüger, the Souls Grown Deep exhibition in London draws on SGD’s collection to showcase unique Black artistic traditions and modes of visual storytelling that developed in the South throughout the twentieth century, with 64 works by 34 artists in media ranging from quilts and sculptures to paintings, drawings, and reliefs. 

While many of the artists featured in the exhibition—including Thornton Dial, Lonnie Holley, Joe Minter, Loretta Pettway, Nellie Mae Rowe, and Purvis Young—have gained widespread acclaim in the United States, the landmark exhibition represents the first time many of these works will be shown in Europe, as well as the first museum exhibition focusing on the SGD collection outside the United States. 

“In the face of systemic racism, economic and political disenfranchisement, and scarce resources, Black artists in the South developed trailblazing, powerful creative traditions that were overlooked or outright excluded by the artistic establishment for decades,” Raina Lampkins-Fielder, curator of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, said. “Souls Grown Deep Like the Rivers aims to shift that narrative and broaden the conversation, shining a long overdue spotlight on these artists’ contributions on an international stage.” 

Works in the Souls Grown Deep exhibition in London range from the mid-twentieth century to the present, with subjects and materials shaped by the legacies of enslavement, Jim Crow segregation laws, the civil rights movement, and ongoing systemic inequalities. Often living in rural communities with limited access to supplies and formal schooling, artists learned from family members, mentors, and friends, as well as through experimentation, making creative use of locally found, recycled materials and forming deeply rooted intergenerational artistic traditions. One such community featured in Souls Grown Deep Like the Rivers is the quiltmakers of Gee’s Bend, Alabama—arguably one of the longest running quilt academies in the world, which played a vital role in the civil rights movement and whose vivid textile works SGD has long advocated for recognition as an important chapter of American modern art. 

The Royal Academy exhibition builds on a year of milestones in Souls Grown Deep’s advocacy for Black artists and their communities. In 2022, SGD announced its first international museum acquisitions through its Collection Transfer Program, placing works by Black artists in the collections of the National Gallery of Victoria, Pinault Collection, and Tate. In addition, a major exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. on view through March 2023 highlights a set of works acquired from SGD, cementing the artists’ place in the national canon.

SGD also made significant impact investments for economic and cultural development throughout the south and collaborated with quilters to host the inaugural Gee’s Bend Airing of the Quilts Festival in October, which featured the unveiling of the Gee’s Bend Heritage Trail, the largest cultural tourism and placemaking project in the region’s history. 

“As the first international museum exhibition with a focus on the Souls Grown Deep Foundation’s collection, Souls Grown Deep Like the Rivers provides long-awaited recognition of Black artists from the American South,” Dr. Maxwell L. Anderson, president of Souls Grown Deep, said. “We are grateful to the Royal Academy for its leadership as we pursue a more equitable assessment of the legacies of these artists.” 

To learn more about the Souls Grown Deep exhibition in London, visit https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibition/souls-grown-deep 

About the Royal Academy of Arts 

The Royal Academy of Arts was founded by King George III in 1768. It has a unique position in being an independent, privately funded institution led by eminent artists and architects whose purpose is to be a clear, strong voice for art and artists. Its public program promotes the creation, enjoyment and appreciation of the visual arts through exhibitions, education and debate. 

The Royal Academy is an independent charity. It does not receive revenue funding from the government so is reliant upon the support of its visitors, donors, sponsors, patrons and loyal Friends. www.royalacademy.org.uk 

About Souls Grown Deep Foundation & Community Partnership 

Souls Grown Deep advocates the inclusion of Black artists from the South in the canon of American art history, and fosters economic empowerment, racial and social justice, and educational advancement in the communities that gave rise to these artists. Founded by Atlanta collector William S. Arnett in 2010, Souls Grown Deep derives its name from a 1921 poem by Langston Hughes (1902–1967) titled The Negro Speaks of Rivers, the last line of which is “My soul has grown deep like the rivers.” 

Souls Grown Deep Foundation stewards the largest and foremost collection of works by Black artists from the Southern United States, originally encompassing some 1,300 works by more than 160 artists, two-thirds of whom are women. To date, more than 500 works from the Foundation’s collection have been placed in 32 museums around the world through the Souls Grown Deep Collection Transfer Program. The Foundation advances its mission through collection transfers, exhibitions, education, public programs, and publications. 

Souls Grown Deep Community Partnership pursues racial, social, and economic justice by grant-making, values-aligned investments, underwriting projects, advocacy, and forging collaborations with a variety of like-minded civic organizations, businesses, and nonprofits. 

For more information, visit soulsgrowndeep.org 

Author

  • Chadd Scott

    Chadd Scott is an arts contributor with Forbes and the founder of See Great Art, where he writes about his travels from big city museums to small town galleries in search of great art.

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