From the Archives
On Saturday, millions of women around the world marched to protect their rights and make their voices heard for equality, pouring into the streets and carrying signs with messages both personal and political. In light of the energy their work manifested, today we bring you Lia Wilson’s review of Beverly Buchanan’s exhibition at the Brooklyn museum; unlike the signs and banners from #WomensMarch—many of which are now being collected by institutions and museums—“Buchanan’s works will age, erode, and integrate into the landscape, reminding us how much these sites have absorbed forever, and how the recovery of these stories is a project without end.” This article was originally published on December 6, 2016.
A comprehensive and long-overdue exhibition of Beverly Buchanan’s work kicks off A Year of Yes: Reimagining Feminism at the Brooklyn Museum—a yearlong program of ten exhibitions celebrating the first decade of the museum’s Elizabeth Sackler Feminist Art Center. In a time when voices of misogyny and white supremacy are gaining renewed validation in national political discourse, exploring assumptions around feminism and what feminist art can be is more vital than ever. Buchanan’s work highlights unmarked and under-recognized histories of African American life in the rural South. Her practice is redemptive and recuperative at its core—each piece a poignant gesture standing in resistance to the currents of history-writing that prioritize white male voices. Beverly Buchanan—Ruins and Rituals is a rewarding exhibition to see, for in addition to giving a much-undersung artist her due, it also reminds us that expanding access to the national historical narrative is a deeply feminist gesture.
Born in Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina, Buchanan spent a lot of her upbringing on the campus of South Carolina State University, where her great-uncle was the dean of the School of Architecture. She went on to earn master’s degrees in both parasitology and public health from Columbia University before working as a public health educator in New Jersey. While in New York, she studied with the painter Norman Lewis at the Art Students League, and found a mentor in Romare Bearden. Buchanan was a visible and known figure in New York’s art scene throughout the ’70s and ’80s until she felt drawn back to the South and resettled in Macon, Georgia.
Her practice traverses sculpture, earthworks, photography, and drawing. While certain bodies of work bear formal and conceptual connections to Post-Minimalism and Land Art, others share more in common with outsider and vernacular art that have drawn inspiration from Buchanan’s native rural South. Despite the range and resistance to classification, a clear through line is the artist’s commitment to testimony: her need to record, mark, and memorialize sites in the U.S. landscape that are embedded with suppressed or little acknowledged legacies of racism, violence, and neglect. Ruins and Rituals reminds us of the thousands of stories that remain untold in our national consciousness—some lost forever.