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The struggles of the American South on display in London

London's Royal Academy of Arts   -  
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United Kingdom

An exhibition showcasing the work of several African-American artists opens this week in London's Royal Academy of Arts.

"Soul Grown Deep like the Rivers" brings together 64 works by 34 artists, who explore the difficult history of being Black in the American South.

"These artists were largely born during the first half of the 20th century, active during the mostly second half of the century in the American South. Black artists, most of them descendants of enslaved forebears who had suffered through, of course, also the segregation that dominated the South after the Civil War, the legacy of enslavement, the sort of harrowing violence and abuse that they experienced, and social disadvantage, economic disadvantage", said Axel Rüger, Chief Executive of the Royal Academy of Arts in London's West End.

The struggles of oppression, racism and social exclusion influence the artists’ works.

But so do their cultural traditions: music, religion and stories handed down from their African forefathers.

Most artists, such as Lonnie Holley, had no formal artistic training.

"We had to do extra hard because we were considered to be slaves. (...) We were considered to be the thrown away parts of humanity (...)", recalls artist Lonnie Holley

The artist brought to London the chair that his grandfather used and that was subsequently turned into a work of art (Spirit of the Man by the Chicken House Door,1984, by Lonnie Holley, Ed.)

"When my grandfather came from the war, World War I, he was so careful and caring for us that he would sit up all night sometimes, just protecting the chickens in the chicken house (...) , I try to show how we have lived with what we have", said the artist. 

Most of the artworks on display come from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, an organisation in Atlanta that advocates for Black artists from the South.

"I think there really is a thirst for people to want to know about different histories and different perspectives. And I think this is what that exhibition will offer to them", said art critic Tabish Khan

"Soul Grown Deep like the Rivers: Black Artists from the American South" runs from March 17 to June 18.

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