American, 20th-21st centuries. Born 1943, Birmingham, Alabama; lives Birmingham.
Joe Minter, a self-taught, African American artist, constructed African Village in America, a quarter-acre, densely packed sculptural environment built around his home in Birmingham, Alabama. It is an intensely personal artistic statement and expression of an epic historic and cultural vision. He began creating the site in 1989, in the belief that a significant part of the story of the black experience might never be told and that the contributions of the thousands of ordinary citizens who took part in the battle for human rights–the “foot soldiers” of the civil rights movement–would be disregarded. Minter states he had asked God for a vision and received a mission to tell “the story of the African people lost here in America.”
The site comprises dozens of rough-hewn sculptures and installations, most made from found objects, reclaimed metal, and inexpensive materials acquired at outlet stores. Predominant among these materials are old, rusty tools and chains. The tools often form the armature of anthropomorphic figures to invoke their original, now anonymous users, as well as centuries of slave and peonage labor. The chains provide brutal reminders of slavery, yet also serve as metaphorical links to connect the lost past and the contemporary viewer to spur a process of reclamation and healing.
Referencing four hundred years of African American history, the environment’s sculpture invokes an ancestral African village, the Middle Passage, life under slavery, while many pieces commemorate key moments in the civil rights movement, such as the Montgomery bus boycott; Dr. Martin Luther King’s incarceration in Birmingham Jail; the 1963 16th Street Church bombing in Birmingham; the freedom riders’ buses; and the Selma March over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The historical testimony extends into the present, as Minter addresses the moral and political crises of our days–whether the Iraq wars, 9/11, or police killings of African Americans. Throughout the site, painted signs draw political and religious lessons from these historical moments and challenge viewers to affirm the foundational political ideals of the nation and the Christian values of mercy, forgiveness, and humility before God.
2018, History Refused to Die: Highlights from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation Gift, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
2014, When Stars Begin to Fall: Imagination and the American South, Studio Museum in Harlem, New York
2007, Alabama Folk Art, Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama
2004, Coming Home: Self-Taught Artists, the Bible, and the American South, Art Museum of the University of Memphis
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Souls Grown Deep Foundation, Atlanta
Russell, Charles, “The Stations of the African American Passion: Joe Minter’s African Village in America,” Raw Vision 68, Winter 2009/10, 42-45.
Crown, Carol, ed. Coming Home: Self-Taught Artists, the Bible, and the American South, Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2004.
Arnett, William and Paul Arnett, eds. Souls Grown Deep: African American Vernacular Art of the South, vol. II, Atlanta: Tinwood Books, 2001.