Americas

Beverly Buchanan
Country Family Home

Made between 1986 and 2015, Buchanan’s Shack Sculptures are a result of the artist’s close observation and extensive research of ‘shotgun’ houses, where one room is arranged in sequence one behind the other; the rural poor inhabited these houses. They were often constructed for rent near railways or manufacturing centers, but by the late twentieth century tended to be owner-occupied. By engaging with this architectural form, Buchanan considers the economic consequences of the abandonment of this form of housing as a result of the ubiquity of the motorcar that permitted people to move to the suburbs, where there was less pressure on space. In the South, where Buchanan lived and worked, superstitions were attached to this form of building that held that ghosts and spirits could pass straight through them, so doors were deliberately misaligned to deter them. Country Family Home is an excellent example from the Shack Sculptures series that explores the history of these ruined buildings, subjected to a battering by nature and life, and which are somehow kept alive to provide shelter for the disadvantaged. The patchwork nature of the shack suggests a hand-to-mouth existence but also the ingenuity of those who kept these buildings going against all odds. The title has ironic and cynical overtones, referring to country houses normally being considered as secondary residencies of the affluent. The artist’s emphasis on ruins foregrounds the central and pertinent theme of the necessity of survival.

Beverly Buchanan initially trained as a public health educator having studied medical technology and came to art later, training at the Art Students League under Norman Lewis and finding mentorship in Romare Bearden. Buchanan’s practice traverses site-specific interventions, photographs, drawings, painting and sculpture, and while her practice has often been considered as folk art, her work subverts the boundaries of categorization. Rather her practice boundlessly explores issues of race, gender and memory; dealing intimately with issues related to racial discrimination and hardship, slavery, the overlooked and the daily lives of the disadvantaged. The only major show she had was conceived in her lifetime and came to view posthumously in 2016 at the Brooklyn Museum. Early concrete sculpture recalled ancient tombs as well as dialoguing with the primary structures of contemporary minimalists. Buchanan is best known for a series of paintings and sculptures of shacks from which the present work is selected. Buchanan was born in North Carolina, raised in South Carolina and spent much of her working life as an artist in Georgia. Her experiences as an African American woman in the southern states of America manifest a sincere and intimate sense of hardship, knowledge and growth -- the voice of struggle that deserves to be amplified today.