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Original Traveling Exhibition

September 01, 2016 – January 08, 2017

The Nasher Museum presented Southern Accent: Seeking the American South in Contemporary Art, which questioned and explored the complex and contested space of the American South. One needs to look no further than literature, cuisine and music to see evidence of the South’s profound influence on American culture, and consequently much of the world. This unprecedented exhibition addresses and complicates the many realities, fantasies and myths that have long captured the public’s imagination about the American South. Presenting a wide range of perspectives, from both within and outside of the region, the exhibition created a composite portrait of southern identity through the work of 60 artists. The art in the exhibition reflects upon and pulls apart the dynamic nature of the South’s social, political and cultural landscape.

“Southern Accent is an extensive exploration of southern identity through contemporary art,” said Trevor Schoonmaker, Chief Curator and Patsy R. and Raymond D. Nasher Curator of Contemporary Art, and co-curator of the exhibition. “The exhibition has been four years in the making, but the timing of Southern Accent is especially meaningful now – in the wake of Charleston, Orlando, Baton Rouge and countless other tragedies, and given the tense social and racial climate during this presidential election year. We’re an art museum, so exhibitions are our platform for starting conversations. I hope Southern Accent can create a space to reimagine the South in new ways and reframe the way we think about the South in contemporary art. At its best, art can help give shape to cultural and social change, promote needed discourse and even help build community.”

Artists in the Exhibition

Terry Adkins, Walter Inglis Anderson, Benny Andrews, Radcliffe Bailey, Romare Bearden, Sanford Biggers, Willie Birch, Rachel Boillot, Douglas Bourgeois, Roger Brown, Beverly Buchanan, Diego Camposeco, Mel Chin, William Christenberry, Sonya Clark, Robert Colescott, William Cordova, Jerstin Crosby and Bill Thelen, Thornton Dial, Sam Durant, William Eggleston, Minnie Jones Evans, Ralph Fasanella, Skylar Fein, Howard Finster, Michael Galinsky, Theaster Gates, Jeffrey Gibson, Deborah Grant, Barkley L. Hendricks, James Herbert and R.E.M., Birney Imes, Jessica Ingram, George Jenne, Deborah Luster, Sally Mann, Kerry James Marshall, Henry Harrison Mayes, Richard Misrach, Jing Niu, Tameka Norris, Catherine Opie, Gordon Parks, Ebony G. Patterson, Fahamu Pecou, Tom Rankin, Dario Robleto, Jim Roche, James “JP” Scott, Amy Sherald, Xaviera Simmons, Mark Steinmetz, Jimmy Lee Sudduth, Hank Willis Thomas, Burk Uzzle, Stacy Lynn Waddell, Kara Walker, Andy Warhol, Carrie Mae Weems, and Jeff Whetstone.

Open-Ended Question

Entrance to Southern Accent. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion.
Entrance to Southern Accent. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion.

William Faulkner once suggested that the South is not so much a “geographical place” as an “emotional idea.” Southern Accent looks at the South as an open-ended question to be explored and expanded. The exhibition encompasses a broad spectrum of media and approaches, demonstrating that southernness is more of a shared sensibility than a consistent culture. The exhibition includes work dating back to the 1950s, but primarily focuses on art produced within the past 30 years. The exhibition also included a curated music library since no region in the United States has contributed more to American music than the South. This music chronology that speaks to southern life provided an invaluable counterpoint to the artwork in the exhibition.

This exhibition was co-organized by Trevor Schoonmaker, Chief Curator and Patsy R. and Raymond D. Nasher Curator of Contemporary Art at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, and Miranda Lash, Curator of Contemporary Art at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky.

Southern Accent traveled to the Speed Art Museum, where it was on view April 29 – October 14, 2017.

For more information, please peruse the mini website that was on view while the exhibition was at Duke.


Exhibition Catalogue

The Nasher Museum published the catalogue Southern Accent: Seeking the American South in Contemporary Art on the occasion of the exhibition. The catalogue was honored with a “Merit Award” as part of How International Design Awards of 2017, administered by How Magazine.

This beautifully designed 276-page catalogue offers a robust expansion of investigations raised by works in the exhibition, with texts from myriad perspectives, ranging from groundbreaking scholarship to poetry, song lyrics and personal reflections. The Southern Accent exhibition catalogue was co-edited by the Nasher Museum’s chief curator, Trevor Schoonmaker, and the Speed Art Museum’s curator of contemporary art, Miranda Lash. Southern Accent was designed by Julie Klugman Braude and Reneé Cagnina Haynes. The catalogue is distributed by Duke University Press and available for purchase at the Nasher Museum Store.


Southern Accent Music Library

Visitors experienced the complete Southern Accent Music Library at a listening station at the Nasher Museum, as part of Southern Accent. Photo by J Caldwell.

The exhibition was accompanied by the Southern Accent Music Library, curated by Brendan Greaves, Harrison Haynes and Trevor Schoonmaker. This is an extensive listening library of songs of and about the American South. No region in the United States has contributed more to American music than the South, and its music has played an essential role in defining and exporting “southernness” to the rest of the world. Like the visual works in the exhibition, the recordings in the music library span the 1950s to the present.

Organized both chronologically and thematically, the Southern Accent Music Library functions as a brief, subjective musical history. Selected songs address questions of southern culture, identity, history, folk life and lifestyle, featuring lyrics and compositional and performance styles that have helped define what it means to be southern. Perspectives come from both inside and outside the South, with a strong bent toward artists and traditions from the region. To help demonstrate the diversity and enormity of the South’s musical output and influence, no more than one song has been included by any one artist. While curating this collection is an inherently subjective endeavor, effort has been made to balance greatest hits and southern heroes with unexpected artists and more obscure and provocative tracks. By its very nature, the Southern Accent Music Library is not comprehensive, but the attempt is for the collection to be inclusive when it comes to musical genres, eras and cultural perspectives.

Visitors experienced the complete Southern Accent Music Library at a listening station at the Nasher Museum, as part of Southern Accent.


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Exhibition Support

Southern Accent: Seeking the American South in Contemporary Art was supported by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust; Jennifer McCracken New and Jason New; Trent Carmichael; Katie Thorpe Kerr and Terrance I. R. Kerr; Drs. Victor and Lenore Behar; Caroline and Arthur Rogers; Ann Chanler and Andrew Scheman; Parker & Otis; Lisa Lowenthal Pruzan and Jonathan Pruzan; Kimball Richmond and Rodney Priddy; Sam Tsao; Gail Belvett; and Richard Tigner.

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