The High Museum of Art’s newest exhibit is definitely something you can’t miss. This historic exhibit, “Hear Me Now: The Black Potters of Old Edgefield, South Carolina” is a look into the dark past of the United States, and the reclamation of art stolen from enslaved African Americans.
This exhibit highlights the pottery made by enslaved African Americans during the early 19th century (pre-Civil War) in Edgefield South Carolina. The exhibit works to identify and name the true artists of this gorgeous pottery, since many of the names of the real artists were erased or never recorded.
Some history on The Black Potters of Old Edgefield, South Carolina
The history of slavery in the United States is widely understood in terms of agriculture, but that was not the only avenue for enslavement. Historians are now delving into the past of “industrial slavery,” where the knowledge, experience and skill of enslaved people were essential to the success of the enterprise. This exhibit sheds light on how industrial slavery was used in the south.
In the early 1800s, white settlers established potteries in the Old Edgefield district, a rural area on the western edge of South Carolina, to take advantage of its natural clays. Hundreds of enslaved people were then forced to work in the potteries, handling all of the duties of the pottery, from mining and preparing clay to throwing vast quantities of wares and decorating and glazing the vessels.
White enslavers then marked the finished products with their own names, therefore claiming the expertise of the enslaved as their own. This is why today it is so important to return the rightful identities of the potters to their products. Only some of the enslaved makers have been identified so far, and more than 100 of their names are highlighted in the exhibition.
The High’s exhibit actually does include pottery from Edgefield’s best-known artist, Dave — later recorded as David Drake — who boldly signed, dated and incised verses on many of his jars, despite literacy being illegal among enslaved people at the time.
The High’s Exhibit
This critically acclaimed exhibition features nearly 60 ceramic objects created by enslaved African Americans. The works include monumental storage jars by the literate potter and poet Dave (later recorded as David Drake, ca. 1800-1870), and rare examples of utilitarian wares and face vessels by unrecorded makers.
“Hear Me Now” also includes work by leading contemporary Black artists who have responded to or whose practice connects with the Edgefield story, including Theaster Gates, Simone Leigh and Woody De Othello.
The exhibition is organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Rand Suffolk, director of the High says, “We are honored to present this exhibition, which recognizes the innovation of
The exhibition also highlights 19 face vessels or jugs, which served as powerful spiritual objects and were likely made by the Edgefield potters for their own use.
The exhibit will run from Feb. 16-May 12, 2024.
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