Works by Linda Foard Roberts and Hank Williams Thomas spark dialogue around healing and unity.
Two new exhibitions are on view at SOCO Gallery — one, a series of photographs by local artist Linda Foard Roberts, the other, a neon installation by Brooklyn-based conceptual artist Hank Williams Thomas. While the two mediums are quite different, the artists share a connection in their commitment to healing, hope and sparking meaningful discourse around human rights and a region’s painful past.
LAMENT, a song of sorrow for those not heard, is Roberts’ second solo exhibition at SOCO Gallery. In these images, part of a series of photographs taken at various locations across the South, Roberts confronts the region’s complicated history.
Roberts points to a particular moment that sparked the project. While attending a service at a small church in Union County, her son noted that the balcony seats where the family routinely sat were the same pews where, many years ago, enslaved individuals were seated.
“I was moved to tears by the tangibility of this past, and that I’d been sitting there and I didn’t know it,” Roberts says. “I just knew I needed to do something — I needed to somehow try to honor the people that had suffered.”
The photographs in the collection address a longstanding silence about the region’s history of racism.
“I grew up in the South. We didn’t talk about it, growing up, and I think it’s really important that we can have these conversations.”
Roberts, who last year was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for the work, used an 8×10 camera fitted with a circa 1860 Darlot brass barrel lens to capture the soul of the places she photographed, from a small church on the outskirts of Charlotte to rice plantations in South Carolina.
“To me, it was about looking back in time through this lens and how we’re all feeling this connection of the past to the present … I wanted you to be able to feel the places, not just see the places.” The artist also curated wall text accompanying the photographs, highlighting quotes from Thomas Wolfe, Maya Angelou and others who inspired the project.
Also on view in the gallery is Love Rules by Brooklyn-based Thomas, a co-founder of the For Freedoms artists’ collective. The neon sign, which transitions between messages of “Love Rules” and “Love Over Rules,” is an homage to the artist’s cousin, who was murdered in 2000. The installation coincides with an outdoor version of the piece on view in Raleigh.
Roberts saw the piece in 2019 at the Brooklyn Museum and was moved by it. (Thomas’ mother is a longtime friend.) “There are all these amazing threads of connectedness,” she says.
The exhibition runs through April 21, but Love Rules won’t be going far. The piece has been acquired by a private collector, who plans to gift it to the Mint Museum.
Roberts will donate a portion of the proceeds from sales to The Slave Dwelling Project, which preserves African American slave homes. In addition, SOCO Gallery will donate a portion of proceeds to the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture.
— Cathy Martin
Love Rules and LAMENT, a song of sorrow for those not heard, will be on view at SOCO Gallery through April 21; 421 Providence Road, socogallery.com
Featured image: Love Rules, Hank Willis Thomas