First published: Summer 2000
From the late 1960's through the 1970's, after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., a remarkable cultural phenomenon unfolded in the southern United States and went almost unnoticed. As if in unspoken response to a trumpet's reveille, black people throughout the region came out from their houses, or factories, or in from the fields, and began to create artistic environments, or 'yard shows,' so the outside world could see what had been previously expressed in secrecy inside and behind their residences.
It had been there for centuries, this yard-show tradition, but almost no one outside the culture knew about it, this not-for-our-eyes cubism, fauvism, expressionism, surrealism, dada, abstract expressionism, pop, minimalism, graffiti, postmodern, neo-this, neo-that, neo-everything. Or proto-everything.
In the 1970's Eldren M. Bailey came out, as did Vernon Burwell, Sam Doyle, Ralph Griffin, Lonnie Holley, Joe Light, Nellie Mae Rowe, Purvis Young, and so many others – too many to count, and probably many others whom we never knew about. Also in that decade Mary T. Smith decided to start expressing ideas that had been in her head since childhood.
With a private space that was hers to create, to define, and to decorate, she would spotlight herself for the world surrounding her. It was a world of people who had, at their worst, laughed at her and been contemptuous of her, and, at their best, simply tolerated her as someone who was different and insignificant. Now it was Mary T. Smith's turn.
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #31