SOCO Gallery highlights NC artists

The Arts

June 24, 2024

SOCO Gallery photograph by Christina Hussey

A new turn: North Carolina artists offer fresh perspectives on our state’s tangled history in New North State, a group exhibition at SOCO Gallery.

by Cathy Martin

To many, the “Old North State” moniker is simply a nickname — old-timey, perhaps, but a seemingly innocuous reference to a bygone era. But to others, the name — established in 1710 when the Carolina colony was divided into north and south —  invokes antebellum associations of our state’s not-so-proud moments in history. 

Marshall N. Price, guest curator of the New North State exhibition at SOCO Gallery, found this notion intriguing when he arrived in Durham in 2014. “I was thinking about it and how it relates to the artists who are working in North Carolina today,” says Price, who is chief curator and curator of modern and contemporary art at Duke University’s Nasher Museum of Art. “And one of the things that has become apparent to me over the years is that so many of these artists are pushing against this antiquated narrative of the region, and doing so in ways that are extremely meaningful and resonant — not only in a regional context but also in a larger national, even international, context.”

For the exhibition, Price chose an intergenerational group of six artists currently living and working in the state, mostly in the Triangle region. The youngest is Kennedi Carter, a Durham photographer born in 1998 who, while achieving worldwide acclaim, focuses mostly on Black life in the South. The oldest is Jim McDowell, a 70-something ceramic artist in western N.C. whose works blend the face-jug traditions of the American South and the styles of the enslaved potters of Old Edgefield in rural South Carolina. Carter and McDowell each have three works on view.

“Here comes the General,” a mixed-media work by Vietnam-born artist Lien Truong, captivates viewers upon entering the gallery. “She makes these incredibly complex paintings that are abstract in many ways, but also have these elements of representation in them,” Price says. The work contains references to France’s occupation and colonization of Vietnam in the 19th century and Silent Sam, the sculpture of a Confederate soldier taken down by protesters in 2018 at UNC Chapel Hill, where Truong is an art professor. “She’s linking these notions of colonization both abroad, in the country in which she was born, and even right here in our backyard,” Price says.

The exhibition includes two works by Durham artist Damian Stamer, who is best known for his abstract landscapes depicting old abandoned buildings in rural North Carolina. In his newest works, Stamer has begun experimenting with artificial intelligence: He’ll recall a childhood memory, feed the prompt into an AI system, and use the auto-generated image as a reference in his painting. The resulting works blend nostalgic memory with technology — “two things that you don’t really think of as going hand in hand,” says Price. 

Also on view are “American Harvest,” a compelling piece that’s an homage to the countless lives lost to gun violence by Durham sculptor Stephen Hayes, and a fantastical mixed-media work by Bull City artist Saba Taj.  

Price is enthused by the current ecosystem of artists working in the state. In a way, the exhibition is an extension of recent efforts at the Nasher Museum to show more local and regional artists. 

“Frequently, with museums, they’re somewhat reticent to show local artists,” Price says. “But one of the things we’ve realized is that A: artists in the area are just as good as the artists who maybe have a national or international platform, and B: the issues that they’re dealing with are intricately interwoven into the larger national, cultural and social fabric of our society. In that way, they dovetail so nicely with the artists that have a larger platform.”  SP

New North State is on view at SOCO Gallery through Aug. 7. 421 Providence Rd.

Photographs by Christina Hussey courtesy SOCO Gallery

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