The exhibition is a sort of Faulknerian stream-of-consciousness narrative, moving seamlessly from subject to subject. Tattered orange and red dishtowels on a clothesline, each piece of cloth shot through with holes; a line of railway freight cars shrouded in the evening light of the Mississippi Delta; thin shadows cast on brown cinderblocks below a periwinkle-blue sky. The bohemian and gothic Souths collide in Eggleston’s photographs—his bright colors and distinct perspectives imbue rusting signs and aging buildings with a spiritual, emotional darkness that speaks to a decaying world of an older South fading into suburbia and industrial development.
Daddy’s truck was one of those places—like a grandmother’s house, a real and actual soul food restaurant, or a barbershop owned by an older black man who guards the radio by silent threat of the revolver in his drawer next to the good clippers—where one could reliably expect to hear either (and only) 1070 WDIA or 1340 WLOK. It was the other side of sound, the other side of Southern blackness, a steady if muffled undercurrent that persisted and quietly buoyed new generations.
I live five miles from where the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel tragedy unfolded, along the New River Gorge in Fayette County. Hawk’s Nest is an extreme in a class of extremes—the disaster where truly nothing seemed to survive, even in memory—and I have made a home in its catacombs. The historical record is disgracefully neglectful of the event, and only a handful of the workers’ names were ever made known. What’s more, any understanding of Hawk’s Nest involves the discomfort of the acute race divide in West Virginia, seldom acknowledged or discussed. Indeed, race is still downplayed in official accounts. Disaster binds our people, maybe. But what if you’re one of those deemed unworthy of memory?
Native to the Northeast, photographer Shane Lavalette developed his intimacy with the South primarily through the region’s traditional music, including old time, blues, and gospel. The themes and stories passed down in these songs became Lavalette’s natural entry point for the project One Sun, One Shadow.
On view right now at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University is a crucial exhibition for these times. Southern Accent: Seeking the American South in Contemporary Art is a necessarily broad group of artwork that takes the South as its subject and approaches it from a wide array of viewpoints.
Algia Mae Hinton, the great blues guitarist and banjo picker, lives in Johnston County, North Carolina. It’s a short drive from Raleigh and Durham but feels rather far from those cities, with their food trucks and breweries and warehouses refitted as condos—the latest iteration of the New South, one might say, except one finds the same pattern in Brooklyn or the Bay Area. In Johnston County you drift back to an earlier era.
A graphic essay from the Fall 2016 issue.
When European settlers bought Kentucky County, before Kentucky and Virginia split along the Appalachian mountain range, a Cherokee chief warned they were purchasing dark and bloody ground.
The story Bassekou Kouyaté wants to tell is simply this: it was cotton that brought the blues from Mali to America, and it was the ngoni—the West African lute that is a predecessor to the banjo—that brought the songs. Kouyaté would like to make a film about this story—one told, for a change, from an African perspective.
You can argue endlessly about whether it’s Elvis, W. C. Handy, Al Green, Jerry Lee Lewis, Rufus Thomas, Sam Phillips, Dewey Phillips, or Justin Timberlake who best defines Memphis music. I’m going with Jim Dickinson.