Participants sought for a proposed session on Southern, African-American “Yards Shows” at the November, 2005 meeting of the American Studies Association.
The ASA meeting will have as its primary theme “Groundwork: Space and Place in American Cultures.” The organizers are calling for session proposals which explore (drawing form the formulation of Wayne Franklin and Michael Steiner) “the taken-for-granted groundwork of American culture, to grasp how space and place permeate the grand acts as well as the ordinary events of American life.”
I would like to help organize a session that focuses in large part on the vernacular visual creations found throughout African-American communities in the rural south generally known as “yard shows.” Seemingly idiosyncratic clusterings yet considered placements of everyday objects that “decorate” and often give rich symbolic meanings to a yard, these constructed environments reveal a complex interaction of personal aesthetic, political, and spiritual expression and the cultural, historical conditions out of which they emerge. They are creations of individuals who have had no particular training in the visual arts, but who nonetheless fill their lives and immediate environments with strongly articulated, often beautiful objects of personal meaning and culturally-specific significance.
Significant work in this field has been initiated by scholars such as Grey Gundaker and Robert Farris Thompson. Important documentation of specific sites appeared in Souls Grown Deep, volume 2. Clearly, however, much more needs to be said about how such sites “illuminate the ways space and place have shaped identities, communities” and our understanding of cultural production.
Please contact me by November 1 with proposals for papers on the phenomenon of the yard show, individual artists or sites, or the larger cultural contexts of yard shows, or if you would like to serve as session Chair or commentator.
Department of English
Rutgers University, Newark
Newark, NJ 07102
(201) 997-9477 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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