Spell, Time, Practice, American, Body: The Work of RaMell Ross

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SPELL, TIME, PRACTICE, AMERICAN, BODY

THE WORK OF RAMELL ROSS



SPELL, TIME, PRACTICE, AMERICAN, BODY THE WORK OF RAMELL ROSS OCTOBER 23, 2021 TO MARCH 27, 2022 OGDEN MUSEUM OF SOUTHERN ART ORGANIZED BY OGDEN MUSEUM OF SOUTHERN ART AND CURATED BY RICHARD McCABE, CURATOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY, OGDEN MUSEUM OF SOUTHERN ART ESSAYS BY RICHARD McCABE SCOTT L. MATTHEWS CONTRIBUTING SPONSOR THE HELIS FOUNDATION SUPPORTING SPONSOR CHARLES D. URSTADT & DAVID BERNARD MICHAEL WILKINSON HOST COMMITTEE BAYLEE BADAWY, DEENA SIVART BEDIGIAN, SESTHASAK BOONCHAI, BEVERLY DALE, ECLECTIC HOME, MONIC A ANN FROIS & EVE BARRIE MASINTER, ALEXA GEORGES & JERRY ARMATIS, JESSIE & BEAU HAYNES, DONNA & JACKSON LITTLE, ROGER H. OGDEN & KEN BARNES, ALAN F. ROTHSCHILD, HOLLY & GEOFFREY P. SNODGRASS, C ARLA & CLEOPHUS THOMAS, PENNY WEAVER

Front Cover: Caspera (detail), 2019, Archival pigment print, 48 x 60 inches, Courtesy of the artist


SPELL, TIME, PRACTICE, AMERICAN, BODY


A BREAK IN THE SPELL: RAMELL ROSS AND THE HISTORY OF PHOTOGRAPHY IN HALE COUNTY, ALABAMA BY SCOTT L. MATTHEWS, PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, FLORIDA STATE COLLAGE AT JACKSONVILLE

In 2009, RaMell Ross moved to a place possessed by a spell. At first glance, Hale County, Alabama resembles any other rural area in the twenty-first century South—a site of sublime beauty and endemic poverty that its youngest residents yearn to escape. During the twentieth century, those very characteristics lured some of America’s most renowned writers and photographers to Hale County where they found inspiration in the ruins of the region’s cotton economy and created some of the most iconic work in the documentary genre. The incantatory power of James Agee’s prose and the meditative lyricism of Walker Evans’s photographs in “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,” along with the topophilia evoked by William Christenberry’s color photography of his ancestral home, bestowed on the county “the status of place in American art and imagination,” argues Alan Trachtenberg. Hale County became a holy land for devotees of the documentary tradition. Since at least the 1970s, pilgrims have wandered its backroads searching for sites and relics that Agee, Evans and Christenberry made sacred, often rephotographing the remnants and creating their own icons in the process. The spell has even transformed Hale County’s vernacular landscape into a kind of open-air gallery: “Drive through Hale County today, and Agee and Evans’ world will come to life,” a writer declared in 2005.1 Ross acknowledges that it took three years of living in Hale County to slip the spell, “to shed all of those platitudinal photographs and all of those empty images of the South and the people there that are ingrained into the ways that people understand that region.” Once free, he began to create a body of work that owes no allegiance to the county’s fabled documentary tradition in which white artists controlled the cameras and pens. He filters his documentary vision through a Black consciousness that sees Hale County, and by extension the rural South, as a “conceptual home for the African American,” a place where the taproot of identity is buried beneath the Black Belt’s loamy soil that once formed a primeval ocean floor. “The Black Belt is the home of our social construction— it is from here that we are everything America has permitted us to be,” Ross has said. “There was no better place for innuendo, for subtlety, for inference; no better place for presenting black folks in ways that are simultaneously basic and complex, historic and contemporary.” In his use of documentary forms to “unburden the African-American body and skin,” Ross also breaks a darker spell crafted by centuries of white fantasy and fear that turned the phantasm of race into a deadly reality. When understood in light of the long history of documentary expression in Hale County, the quiet revolutions that unfold in Ross’ work break out in bolder relief and gesture toward transcendence.2 Scott L. Matthews, Capturing the South: Imagining America’s Most Documented Region (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018), 194–95. 1

Max Fraser, “Filming the Black Belt: An Interview with RaMell Ross,” https://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/filming-the-blackbelt-an-interview-with-ramell-ross. Accessed April 30, 2021; RaMell Ross, “On South County, Alabama,” https://lens.blogs.nytimes. 2


In the early 1920s, Martha Strudwick Young, a Hale County native and scion of west Alabama’s Black Belt aristocracy, wrote a curious set of poems from the perspective of Black women who refused to have their picture taken by white photographers. Since the 1880s, Young had won praise for the realism, humor, and pathos of her dialect stories and poems. Her oeuvre accorded with the Platonic ideal of local color and plantation literature: ethnographic attention to the peculiarities of place and language in the rural South, stock caricatures of Black people as contented “old-time darkies,” a melancholic longing for that which never was. And, yet, in her poems “Mammy’s Picture,” “Kodak in the Quarter,” and “Aunt Dinah’s Picture,” Young critiqued these tropes. Writing about photography, and fictional photographs—the pinnacle of local color’s realist aspirations—allowed Young, however unwittingly, to address the ethical dilemmas and power struggles that arise when one person tries to represent another. In these poems, Black women in Hale County challenge photography’s claims to capture reality and define their identities. They refuse to pose for white photographers and portray photography as a weapon worse than the sheriff, a dark art in which the devil (Kodak) harnesses the “Lord’s own sun” to transmute a lie into truth. In their eyes, photography is an alchemical force in league with other forms of white power. The Kodak at the Quarter Somethin’ ‘nother done got loose on de Place, Jumpin’ right up in ever’body’s face; Des tetch off de trigger of one li’l box— And it snatch up the niggers in droves and flocks! It’s wo’se ‘n de Sheriff gwine ‘round in de fall, ‘Potin on de darkeys one and all; Ever’ thing dat a nigger hand do Dat devil marks it down fer true It got us dar hoein’ and dancin’ and prayin’ It got us plantin’ cotton, pickin’, ginnin’, and weighin’; You stand ‘round arguin’ you won’t be took— But—tetch!—and dar! You’s print in de book! . . . Done ‘range to take a nigger on de jump or de run Done press into service de Lord’s own sun! But de reason I ‘s’pize dat devil – Kodak Is de ‘caze it love to paint a nigger—black!


In “Aunt Dinah’s Picture,” which appeared in the same 1921 collection as “Kodak at the Quarter,” Young portrays a woman as offering a coda to the critiques expressed in the latter poem. In the opening line, “Aunt Dinah” simply says, “No, I don’t want my picter took.” The poem’s title, however, suggests it’s too late; the photograph already exists and soon will “Gwine all round in de paper and de book—“3 That book may well have been Young’s first poetry collection, Plantation Songs for My Lady’s Banjo (1901), which featured photographs by James Washington (J.W.) Otts, also of Hale County’s white elite. Young likely introduced Otts to the Black people who lived on her family’s land and neighboring farms. Since adolescence, Young had collected folklore and songs from these Black women and men and used them as source material for her poems. In Plantation Songs, Otts’ photographs provide the visual analogue of Young’s verse: meek, comical, and quaint Black people still tied to the land and manner of the ancien régime. By the 1920s, Young’s image of Black life in Hale County found its counterpart in essays and travel narratives that presented the county and its seat, Greensboro, as a museum of the antebellum South. “Ask for a town typical of the Old South, and Greensboro will frequently be mentioned . . . A more perfect setting for the most romantic stories of Thomas Nelson Page would be hard to find,” wrote Herdman Cleland of Illinois. The conjurations of the Lost Cause and plantation literature had cast a spell on the white mind. Hale County and the Black Belt became enchanted land. There are, however, “traces of blood in a fairy tale,” writes poet Susan Howe. During the six years he lived in Alabama in the 1920s, Carl Carmer felt with “increasing wonder” that the spell was a kind of miasma exhaled by history, its tragic consequences and occult forces “an emanation of malevolence that threatens to destroy men through dark ways of its own.” Carmer thought words could not ultimately capture the spell’s essence, though he wrote an entire book, Stars Fell on Alabama, trying to do just that.4 In iHome, Ross uses photography to expose the spell’s historical sources and propose a way to break its grip. Blurred in the background sits one of Hale County’s iconic antebellum mansions, Pantheon of the planter class. Both Martha Young and J.W. Otts lived in such homes in Greensboro. In 1927, a writer described Young’s as “what one would expect from a reading of her poems . . . tall white columns stately and proud . . . The very approaches to the house seem to exude the essence of Southern atmosphere and tradition.”5 Otts and his family lived at Magnolia Hall, perhaps the most distinguished of the town’s antebellum homes. In Ross’ photograph the blurred mansion—icon of the Old South spell—recedes and dissolves in the thrall of Black controlled 3

Matthews, Capturing the South, 198—207.

Matthews, Capturing the South, 209; Susan Howe, Singularities (Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1990), 44; Carl Carmer, Stars Fell on Alabama (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2000), xxiii. 4

5

Matthews, Capturing the South, 208.


cameras. The once dispossessed now claim the right of possession. Similarly, in Columns, Ross photographs another white pillared mansion in the indigo twilight. Headlights illuminate the lawn, porch, and base of the pillars and reveal evidence of a renovation in process. The rest of the house is shrouded in shadow, eclipsed by a new representational presence. In his film Hale County This Morning, This Evening, Ross brilliantly evokes how the old spell’s symbols still haunt our consciousness and why this makes Black representational power in Hale County and elsewhere so important. In one scene, the viewer quickly approaches one of Hale County’s antebellum mansions set back in the woods. Ross then cuts to a clip from Lime Kiln Field Day (1913) of Bert Williams, a Bahamian born actor, in blackface furtively peering through a bush. Williams donned blackface to appease white audiences, to assure them of the hold of their spell. The images of a white mansion and a Black actor in blackface are symbiotic. Soon the scene shifts to a Black man in Hale County tossing tires on a fire. As dark but diaphanous billows of smoke swirl into the trees, the man tells Ross that his grandson has just received a scholarship to study photography in college. “We need more Black folk making photos in the area,” Ross replies in support while holding his own camera. The scene, however, ends with Williams reappearing like a revenant. His face, with its enigmatic scans and grins, still seems possessed by the spell, even as the light dilutes its dark exhalations. Until Ross’ work, what writer James Agee in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men called the “privilege of perception” remained a white possession in Hale County.6 During the 1930s and 1940s, a new generation of white writers and photographers employed by the federal government and eastern magazines fanned out across the South to document the economic, environmental, and human consequences of the collapse of the region’s cotton culture. Hale County lured some of the best of these documentarians, including Agee and photographers Walker Evans in August 1936 and Jack Delano in June 1941. The product of Agee and Evans’ three week collaboration, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, was published in 1941 and would ultimately transform the county’s image, particularly after the book was reissued in 1960 and discovered by a new generation who looked to the rural South for vestiges of cultural authenticity and aesthetic inspiration in nation that marketed them cheap imitations. For many, it became a sacred, esoteric text. The unpainted tenant house replaced the white pillared mansion; the worn faces of the white rural poor supplanted the mannequin grins of Otts and Young’s faithful Black retainers.

6

James Agee and Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001), 178.


In the 1930s and 1940s, Hale County seemed like a microcosm of the entire South, including the problems besetting it. Its 657 square miles contained the prairielands of the Black Belt in its southern half and the last outcroppings of Appalachian hills in the north. In both sections a growing number of impoverished and dispossessed Black and white tenant farmers struggled to wrest a living from depleted soils. For their story on cotton tenancy, originally commissioned by Fortune magazine, Agee and Evans chose to document the lives of three white tenant families who lived “up in the valley” in the hilly northern half of the county. Jim Crow dictated who controlled the cameras and pens and who appeared in any resulting story or book. Hale County’s population was 75 percent Black in the 1930s but conducting extensive and intimate fieldwork with a Black family was out of the question. Black tenants, Agee said, “were of no use to me.” Unlike Otts and Young, Agee and Evans were outsiders, New Yorkers. Their mere presence in the county had already provoked enough suspicion.7 In Agee’s view race also shaped how people responded to a stranger with a camera. His assessment echoes the undercurrents of suspicion and resistance that Martha Young captured in poems such as “Kodak at the Quarter” and “Aunt Dinah’s Picture.” “I notice how much slower white people are to catch on than negroes, who understand the meaning of a camera, a weapon, a stealer of images and souls, a gun, an evil eye.” Agee had heard about how Blacks in the South responded to cameras from a Hale County agricultural agent who was helping him find farmers who would be good candidates for his Fortune piece. “Sure,” the agent said, “take all the snaps you’re a mind to; that is, if you can keep the niggers from running off when they see a camera.” In the view of Walter Benn Michaels, “We might say that black people in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men are essentially invisible, almost literally unphotographable.”8 Their presence is spectral. They haunt the margins, cast shadows from beyond the frame, and then disappear. They live in the cuts, secluded near ravines, or just beyond a spring. In Agee’s telling, their shutters are always drawn tight, “the lamplight pulsing like wounded honey through the seams into the soft night, and there is laughter: but nobody else cares.”9 Ross’ work breaks the spells of the past and brings the humanity of Hale County’s Black people into the light. His photographs are emanations from the interior of lives that have long been ignored or reduced to props for someone else’s fantasy or cause. At the same time, Ross respects the inviolable privacy and autonomy of the women and men he photographs. They appear at a distance, cloaked in a cloud of dust, hidden behind a rose bush or a bus seat, absorbed in quotidian experience and not captured by the camera for the viewer’s pleasure or project. Ross presents them with sacrificial care, allowing them, and not the artist, to author their identities. 7

Matthews, Capturing the South, 208; Agee and Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, 24.

8

Matthews, Capturing the South, 209–211.

9

Agee and Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, 49.


These photographs confound definitive interpretations; they preclude confident statements about people and a place some think they understand, but don’t. Dakesha and Marquise, Ladrewya and Michaelangelo, Ron and Daniel, Shaequan and Kami, Antonio and Jodice, Ida Mae and Man. They appear here as they are: holy mysteries.


SOUTH COUNTY, AL (A HALE COUNTY) 2012-2014

Antonio, 2012, Archival pigment print, 36 x 46 inches, Courtesy of the artist

Brothers Z, 2012, Archival pigment print, 36 x 46 inches, Courtesy of the artist


Dakesha and Marquise, 2012, Archival pigment print, 36 x 46 inches, Courtesy of the artist

Famous Men, 2012, Archival pigment print, 36 x 46 inches, Courtesy of the artist


Giving Tree, 2012, Archival pigment print, 36 x 46 inches, Courtesy of the artist

Here, 2012, Archival pigment print, 36 x 46 inches, Courtesy of the artist


Ida Mae, 2012, Archival pigment print, 46 x 36 inches, Courtesy of the artist


iHome, 2012, Archival pigment print, 36 x 46 inches, Promised gift of the Roger Houston Ogden Collection

Jodice, 2012, Archival pigment print, 36 x 46 inches, Courtesy of the artist


Ladrewya and Michelangelo, 2012, Archival pigment print, 36 x 46 inches, Courtesy of the artist

Landscape, 2012, Archival pigment print, 36 x 46 inches, Courtesy of the artist


Speaker, 2012, Archival pigment print, 36 x 46 inches, Courtesy of the artist

Yellow, 2012, Archival pigment print, 36 x 46 inches, Courtesy of the artist


Boys, 2013, Archival pigment print, 11 x 14 inches, Courtesy of the artist

Open, 2013, Archival pigment print, 11 x 14 inches, Courtesy of the artist


Ron, 2013, Archival pigment print, 36 x 46 inches, Courtesy of the artist

Shaquan, 2013, Archival pigment print, 36 x 46 inches, Courtesy of the artist


Told on the Mountain, 2013, Archival pigment print, 36 x 46 inches, Courtesy of the artist

Columns, 2014, Archival pigment print, 19 x 24 inches, Courtesy of the artist


Daniel, 2014, Archival pigment print, 19 x 24 inches, Courtesy of the artist

Dream Catcher, 2014, Archival pigment print, 36 x 46 inches, Courtesy of the artist


Magic School Bus, 2014, Archival pigment print, 36 x 46 inches, Courtesy of the artist

Sleepy Church, 2014, Archival pigment print, 36 x 46 inches, Promised gift of the Roger Houston Ogden Collection


A SLOW REVEAL – THE ART OF RAMELL ROSS BY RICHARD McCABE, CURATOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY, OGDEN MUSEUM OF SOUTHERN ART

The discovery began after I moved to Alabama in 2009 to teach photography and coach basketball. Photographing in my day-to-day, I began filming, using time to figure out how we’ve come to be seen. These are the first two sentences that appear on the screen at the beginning of RaMell Ross’ film, “Hale County This Morning, This Evening.” The words contained within these sentences encapsulate the conceptual core of Ross’ art practice. A practice and process for art making built around concepts of discovery, time-based storytelling and the accurate representation of a community. Spell, Time, Practice, American, Body is the culmination of Ross’ twelve years of engagement with the Black community of Hale County, Alabama. Since 2012, Ross has produced a series of photographs, South County, AL (A Hale County), and multiple films including “Hale County This Morning, This Evening.” Timely and timeless, this body of work captures the enchanted lushness of the rural Alabama landscape while sublimely addressing ideas of “Blackness” and “otherness” in the American South and beyond. “To be Black is the greatest fiction of my life. Yet I’m still bound to its myth. I can’t help but think about the myth’s childhood and its backyard of the South. How the myth of Blackness aged into fact and grew into laws. How it evolved from there to become tacit, and join the secret order of things. How it became the dark matter of the American imagination.” The photographs and films of RaMell Ross are hard to define, categorize or describe in mere words. RaMell Ross is a storyteller with a camera, and his photographs and films seem to fit within the social documentary tradition. Yet, his work occupies a unique space between documentary, socialdocumentary, post-documentary, conceptual and experimental art. Ross’ formal conceptual language and collaborative spirit with his subject matter intersect to produce a highly original, visionary style of documentary art.


RaMell Ross’ visual language is aligned more closely with poetry than traditional prose. A two-way conversation happens when viewing a photograph or film by Ross. The intrinsic meaning of Ross’ artwork is not on the surface, but underneath. This is art that asks more questions than it answers, and in doing so, fosters active engagement with the viewer to investigate and decode the plural messages beneath the surface. His art is a slow reveal, a whisper. Ross brilliantly constructs a narrative predicated upon the loose association of visual signifiers. Narrative structure unfolds organically through imagery based on stream-of-consciousness – producing an aesthetic more akin to cinema vérité as opposed to the logical linear sequencing found throughout the genres of documentary photography and film. Ross’ open-ended, non-linear approach to the documentary tradition, combined with the metaphorical imagery he creates, enables the viewer multiple points of entry into his art. “Liberated documentation, as I term it. It’s that Western ethics and values of documenting and the document are unsuited to deal with the complexity of Blackness. I want to make work that unitedly honors its participants, resists their easy consumption and judgment, and quietly asks our imagination and intellect to question the known and easy constructions of identity and place.” Ross’ creative breakthrough moment came in 2012, when he realized the conventional documentary storytelling construct of capturing the real world as-it-is through narrative sequencing based in linear time was incapable of accurately capturing the complexity of Hale County’s Black community. At the same time, Ross recognized the problematic power dynamic the camera presented in exasperating “otherness” inherent in traditional documentary structure. With fresh eyes, Ross began the process of writing with light, a new chapter in the story of Hale County. He employed an oblique strategy of image making based on a collaborative spirit of working within the community. A process of image making that allowed Ross to “‘participate, not capture; shoot from, not at the community.” This approach or practice undermines “otherness” and celebrates “Blackness”. “I’ve wanted to unburden the expectations of Blackness, and toy with the power of personal experience and one’s relational proximity to communities to shape observations and in turn memories.”


In his seminal book, “The Souls of Black Folk,” published in 1902, sociologist, scholar and co-founder of the NAACP, W.E.B. Du Bois brings forth ideas of otherness and double consciousness central to the black experience in a white America. Du Bois writes of a metaphorical veil that separates the races, a veil which prevents black Americans the experience of a singular consciousness, a veil that only allows Black Americans to view themselves mirrored in the gaze of the white race. “…The Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world – a world which yields him no true selfconsciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”1 The breaking down of Du Bois’ veil is central to the art of RaMell Ross. In his photographs and films, Ross lifts the veil of double consciousness within the Black community, allowing for singular self-reflection and consciousness. At the same time, Ross’ art removes the veil of “otherness” for those outside the Black community, allowing all people an honest glimpse into African American life in the rural 21st century South. Through process and practice, Ross has crafted new ways of seeing the “other” through a more egalitarian interpretation of the documentary tradition – one that dissolves the inherent power dynamic associated with authorship and the camera’s perception.

1

W.E.B Du Bois, The souls of Black Folk, 14.


SOUTH COUNTY, AL (A HALE COUNTY) 2018 - PRESENT

Caspera, 2019, Archival pigment print, 48 x 60 inches, Courtesy of the artist


Doing Language (working title), 2019, Archival pigment print, 60 x 48 inches, Courtesy of the artist


The Gotten Tree, 2019, Archival pigment print, 48 x 60 inches, Courtesy of the artist

Haiku, 2019, Archival pigment print, 48 x 60 inches, Courtesy of the artist


Koo-see Mountain, 2019, Archival pigment print, 48 x 60 inches, Courtesy of the artist

Man, 2019, Archival pigment print, 48 x 60 inches, Courtesy of the artist


Model Home, 2019, Archival pigment print, 48 x 60 inches, Courtesy of the artist


Nah-brah, 2019, Archival pigment print, 60 x 48 inches, Courtesy of the artist


Bale Cubic, 2020, Archival pigment print, 60 x 48 inches, Courtesy of the artist


Typeface, 2021, Pigment print, 48 x 60 inches, Courtesy of the artist

Who Dat, 2021, Archival pigment print, 48 x 60 inches, Courtesy of the artist


EARTH, DIRT, SOIL, LAND SERIES

RaMell Ross, Earth, Dirt, Soil, Land: Superstition, 2021, Shel Silverstein illustration, Alabama red soil, brown crayon, memorial flag case, museum glass, 12 x 12 x 4 inches, Courtesy of the artist


RaMell Ross, Earth, Dirt, Soil, Land: Flag Case Brown, 2021, Mixed media, 18 ½ x 26 x 3 ½ inches, Courtesy of the artist

RaMell Ross, Earth, Dirt, Soil, Land: Flag Case Black, 2021, Memorial flag case, Alabama red soil, museum glass, 12 ¼ x 17 x 3 ½ inches, Courtesy of the artist


RaMell Ross, Earth, Dirt, Soil, Land: Altar, 2021, Alabama railroad ties, Alabama red soil, museum glass, 47 x 68 x 2 ½ inches, Courtesy of the artist


RaMell Ross, Earth, Dirt, Soil, Land: Light in the Attic, 2021, Shel Silverstein illustration, Alabama red soil, brown crayon, museum glass, 11 x 9 x 1 ¼ inches, Courtesy of the artist


RETURN TO ORGIN INSTALLATION

In 1849, Henry Brown packaged himself in a 3 by 2.67 by 2 feet box. He mailed himself to freedom. The 27 hour journey by railroad, steamboat, wagon and ferry took him from Virginia to Philadelphia. On October 11, 2021, I was freight shipped from North to South in a 4 by 4 by 8 feet box on an open air, goose-neck trailer. The contracted driver was not aware of the crate’s content. The 59 hour trip from Rhode Island to Hale County, Alabama was recorded in full. Inside I began the Black Dictionary (aka RaMell’s Dictionary)*. -RaMell Ross This installation features five components: • Crate • Crate panel • Dictionary photo • Video • Bill of landing

*Black Dictionary (aka RaMell’s Dictionary) involves Ross writing the word black before every entry from a childhood dictionary.


RaMell Ross, Return to Origin, 2021, Alabama railroad ties, synthetic baize, bed roll foam, LED light, plywood, hardware, water, urine, stencil text, 48 x 46 x 72 inches, Courtesy of the artist


RaMell Ross, My Childhood Dictionary, 2021, Instant photograph of government issue dictionary, 3.4 x 2.1 inches, Courtesy of the artist

RaMell Ross, Return to Origin (crate panel), 2021, plywood, hardware, Crate panel: 43.5 x 44.5 inches, Courtesy of the artist


RaMell Ross, Return to Origin, 2021, Video loop, 21:00 minutes, five excerpts from 59 hours, Courtesy of the artist


RaMell Ross, Return to Origin (Bill of Lading), 2021, Framed bill of lading document, 14 x 11 inches, Courtesy of the artist


SURE..BUT US, NOT YOU (EVIDENCE) INSTALLATION

This safe was left in the garage of a multifamily house I purchased in Providence, Rhode Island in 2017. The combination dial and access lever to the safe were broken off and screw drivers were wedged near the top hinges from someone’s previous attempt to break in. I broke through the wall of the safe on July 29th, 2019. Its contents were: • • • • • •

a Santa mask a solder gun a glove 826 bullets (standard, law enforcement grade, and bird and quail shotgun shells, 22 caliber rifle bullets, and 22 caliber hollow point bullets) an embroidered patch of an American eagle on top of a confederate flag a keepsake box containing two long rifle rounds, a quarter dated 1981 and a piece of propaganda with a confederate flag positioned over the words ‘The South Will Rise Again’

The bullets are buried in wall mounted frames made with Alabama railroad ties and buried in Alabama red soil. the bird and quail rounds are in a bullet case. Each type of bullet has a corresponding image or configuration of images. -RaMell Ross


RaMell Ross, ‘sure…but us, not you’ (evidence), 2021, Safe and mixed media, objects: 22 x 41 inches, Courtesy of the artist

RaMell Ross, ‘sure…but us, not you’ (evidence), 2021, Safe and mixed media, Safe: 34 x 24.5 x 21 inches, Courtesy of the artist


RaMell Ross, Play (Tomb 31), 2021, Instant photography, Grid of 31 Polaroids, 3.4 x 2.1 inches each, Courtesy of the artist


RaMell Ross, Catch (Tomb 76), 2021, Instant photography, 4 Polaroids, 3.4 x 2.1 inches each, Courtesy of the artist

RaMell Ross, Sky (Case 15), 2021, Instant photography, 2.1 x 3.4 inches, Courtesy of the artist


RaMell Ross, Retrograde (Tomb 71), 2021, Instant photography, Grid of 73 Polaroids, 3.4 x 2.1 inches each, Courtesy of the artist


RaMell Ross, 2021, Alabama railroad ties, museum glass, found bullets, Alabama red soil, Courtesy of the artist From top to bottom: Tomb 431,10 ½ x 21 ½ 3 ⅛ inches Tomb 31, 7 1/8 x 12 x 3 inches Tomb 76, 10 ¾ x 21 ¾ x 3 ½ inches Tomb 71, 4 x 6 5/16 x 3 ⅛ inches Case 15, 13 ¾ x 4 ¼ x 3 ⅛ inches


A SPLINTER IN THE THIGH Trees are perversely coded into Black representational space, particularly in the historic American South. While there with the status of humanity’s symbolic adoration and worship, there is an adjoining context, a splinter in the thigh. Propinquity; Harvest Propinquity; Horizon of the Thing Witnessed Trees propagate by shape and shadow, rot and flame, topple and scourge. They are wood time, a sentience that invites all parties to life-collaborate to survive. a gale, a song, a massage, a burrower’s haunted house. a lightning strike (anxiety of the sky) taken to the tips of their’ toes When lightning strikes the roots mirror through the ground, like crooked teeth. A current, a channel, a bridge of sorts, when the going-off-light is both on and off, the threshold of a thing and itself. How the forest is a blur of bodies, skewers and limbs, violins and pillories. How sweet the sweat of syrup, salt and blood. How sweet a waft of cedar. How sweet the klank of labor. Our kinesthetic empathy, our use and propinquity*. *Propinquity (n)

1. nearness in place; proximity. 2. nearness of relation; kinship. 3. affinity of nature; similarity. 4. nearness in time.

In social psychology, propinquity (/prǝˈpɪŋkwɪtiː/; from Latin propinquitas, “nearness”) is one of the main factors leading to interpersonal attraction. It refers to the physical or psychological proximity between people. Propinquity can mean physical proximity, a kinship between people, or a similarity in nature between things. The Propinquity Effect is the tendency for people to form friendships or romantic relationships with those whom they encounter often, forming a bond between subject and friend.


RaMell Ross, Propinquity; Horizon of the Thing Witnessed, 2021, Stolen, salvaged or found sycamore, 91 x 42 x 42 inches, Courtesy of the artist


RaMell Ross, Propinquity; Harvest, 2021. Stolen, salvaged or found white ash, 40 x 13.5 x 12 inches, Courtesy of the artist


RaMell Ross, Walk with Me; a Day's Work (film still), 2021, Video, Doreen Ketchen's live performance with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and audio pickups from Hale County This Morning, This Evening, Courtesy of the artist


Gisele Ross, Santa #1, 1999 - 2000, Ceramic, acrylic paint, 10 x 7 inches, Courtesy of the Ross Family

Gisele Ross, Santa #2, 1999 - 2000, Ceramic, acrylic paint, 10 x 7 inches, Courtesy of the Ross Family

Gisele Ross, Santa #3, 1999 - 2000, Ceramic, acrylic paint, 10 x 7 inches, Courtesy of the Ross Family

Gisele Ross, Santa #4, 1999 - 2000, Ceramic, acrylic paint, 10 x 7 inches, Courtesy of the Ross Family



TOURING PARTNERS JULE COLLINS SMITH MUSEUM OF FINE ART AT AUBURN UNIVERSITY Celebrating 20 years of arts and engagement in 2023, the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University is the cultural heart of an Alabama public research institution. Centered within the university’s intellectual life and its diverse and fluid field of ideas, the museum welcomes co-learners—particularly students and faculty—across disciplines to explore the visual arts. Collection strengths include American modernism, stemming from the university’s 1948 purchase of thirty-six works from the U.S. State Department’s exhibition, Advancing American Art, intended to promote notions of freedom of expressio after WWII. The original acquisition includes works by women, immigrants, and artists of color, such as Romare Bearden, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Jacob Lawrence, and Georgia O’Keeffe; guided by that precept, the museum actively acquires, exhibits, and commissions work by historically underrepresented artists to expand cu tural narrative and scholarship. Other highlights include Southern visionary art, works on paper depicting the South, Audubon etchings, contemporary prints and photographs, Mexican modernism, and pottery and ceramics.


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