Written by Rose Hamm
Edited by Ben Hurst
Gary White is a second year MFA candidate in ceramics at the University of Tennessee. His art exhibition “The Unassumed Among Us” will be installed at UTK’s Gallery 1010 from March 19-21. The exhibition of ceramic sculpture, quilting, and drawing documents his identity and history as a multi-ethnic Southerner which he terms the “Southern Other”.
“My work is inspired by the rich complex history of the American South,” White states in his artist statement, “from the perspective of a multi-ethnic Southern experience.”
White’s work focuses on the undocumented histories of the “Southern Other”, who are people from blended heritages of Native American, African, and European decent.
“It is generally perceived and assumed that the South exists only in Black and White, metaphorically, and racially,” says White. “The narrative that I present is the grey areas that exist between the two.”
White creates what he refers to as “hybrid archetypes” through the merging of Catholic Santos figures from Europe, Bakongo Nkisi spirit figures from the Congo, and Mississippian effigy pottery. While White’s work contains references to religious imagery, it creates its own spiritual significance through recording White’s own “secular sainthood” of individuals from the past.
“I am investigating [the creation of] what I refer to as a Southern cathedral,” said White, “of the other in southern history.”
Secular saints of root workers, midwives, shamans, and everyday individuals fill the gallery where White’s quilts act as stained-glass windows in his “Southern cathedral”. His sculptures and drawings feature historical and fictional characters who develop into archetypes of the “unassumed” in Southern culture. According to White, “The Unassumed Among Us” are those in society who are unknown or unassuming and have inherent spiritual power.
“The identities that the [unassumed] people have are... not fitting into boxes or being categorized,” White said. He elaborated that the “unassumed” have an “unbending and unyielding spirit of determination, defiance, both active and silent resistance... that people would assume that these figures don’t have.”
White continues that while the “unassumed” have spiritual power, “They’re not boasting about it. They're not flaunting it. But it’s there, you know. It’s existing. And that’s what I want the figures to exude in the space.”
Through his work White visually documents and honors the oral traditions that maintain the history of the “Southern Other”. He hopes that doing so will create a space for their histories to be discovered and talked about in a wider community.
The opening reception for “The Unassumed Among Us” will be held via Zoom Friday, March 19 at 5:30PM. White’s work will be on display at Gallery 1010 Friday, March 19 from 6PM to 9PM and Saturday and Sunday, March 20-21 from noon to 4PM. Visits to the gallery are by appointment only though Gallery 1010’s website [https://gallery1010.utk.edu/] where the zoom link can also be found.