The University of Mississippi Museum of Art presents Our Faith Affirmed—Works from the Gordon W. Bailey Collection, which celebrates a major gift by noted, Los Angeles-based collector Gordon W. Bailey of inspired artworks created by African American self-taught artists from the South. This important exhibition features works by 27 artists, born between 1900 and 1959. Many of the artists are widely known and several, most notably, Thornton Dial Sr, Roy Ferdinand, Bessie Harvey, Lonnie Holley, Robert Howell, Joe Light, Charlie Lucas, Jimmy Lee Sudduth, and Purvis Young are considered self-taught masters.
Curated by Bailey and David Houston, the powerful exhibition underscores the significance of Southern vernacular artists whose influence extends far beyond the realm of aesthetics. The artworks exude an authority of experience and directness of expression that bears witness to the considerable weight of Southern history, the saga of American politics, and, most clearly, to their faith and clarity of vision.
Houston wrote in the exhibition’s catalog: “With this gift, Gordon W. Bailey, a respected scholar and collector, has considerably broadened the scope of the Museum’s impressive collections. As he intuited, the University's geographic location sets the framework for the further exploration of Southern self-taught artists whose works are emblematic of the region’s culture. Some of the artists have daunting personal histories and were dually stressed by the adversities of poverty and oppression while dealing with the daily tribulations of living in a legally segregated society. All, though unique individuals with decidedly different iconographies and points of view, share context. Whatever their motivation—inner necessity, visionary impulse, political activism, faith in God, nature or nurture—it is clear that they did not need the mechanisms of the art world to either inspire their works or validate the importance of their efforts. For them the raging authenticity and soulful expressiveness that is chiefly responsible for their newfound popular and critical acceptance is solid evidence that they never bowed to limitations or expectations. In fact, they seldom altered their content of purpose whether cut off from the larger culture by geography or by law.”
Bailey’s donation further supports the university’s diversity initiative. In the UM Exhibition Advisory, Bailey addressed the issue: "Considering the history of the region and the nature of incidents that, on occasion, shake the University, I am convinced that this is the right place to make this investment. I believe the arts are our cultural mortar and that they can solidify the bridges connecting diverse communities. There are many good people here–all races, genders and socio-economic levels–pulling or in some cases pushing in the same direction. I believe the museum is a terrific place to pay tribute to African American Southern self-taught artists who persevered and, against the odds, created works of genius that will surely inspire students for generations to come.”
An illustrated catalog features essays by: David Houston, Director of the Bo Bartlett Center at Columbus State University’s College of the Arts in Columbus, Georgia; UM alumnus, W. Ralph Eubanks, editor of the venerable Virginia Quarterly Review; and Jason “PyInfamous” Thompson, UM alumnus, Sally McDonnell-Barksdale Honors College Scholar, and an acclaimed hip-hop emcee and songwriter.