First published: Summer 2022

The yard shows of the Deep South have strong Afro-Atlantic connections and carry deep spiritual and social messages


The making of yard shows – also referred to as yard work, or decorated, dressed and medicated yards – is a tradition in the Deep South of the USA that goes back hundreds of years.


Joe Minter’s Black Lives Matter display in his African Village in Alabama, photo: Micki Beth Stiller


Before air-conditioning was widespread, people spent a lot more time outside, and their yards were an integral part of the household, often used for cooking food and other chores. Many people swept their yard daily, and decorated them with flowers, shrubs and painted trees. Some lined their paths with coloured bottles, or else made bottles trees – trees decorated with glass vessels to entice and trap evil spirits. A few went further still and created entire yard shows.


Butler and his bicycle in 1982, photo: Richard Gasperi


The practice still goes on today, with yard shows often combining painting, sculpture, and the recycling of found objects into assemblage. The creators carry out yard work for exercise, for enjoyment and to exert control over their personal space. In hard times, it is a way of being positive, of trying to make things better.


Mary T. Smith’s house, photo: Tom Rankin


The use of tin foil, mirrors, light bulbs and the like, as reflective, flashing materials, are invocations of the divine, associated with joy. The late Roger Cardinal described the use of improvised and recycled materials such as tyres, roofing tin, wire, shells, and scraps of cardboard, as “clues to a specific aesthetic attitude – in effect, as touchstones of authenticity”.





This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #111

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