NEW ORLEANS, LA (June 8, 2021) — Ogden Museum of Southern Art today announced the details of the coming solo exhibition, Spell, Time, Practice, American, Body, featuring large-format photography, film and sculptural works by RaMell Ross, on view September 25 through January 23, 2022. Spell, Time, Practice, American, Body will explore Ross’s inquiry into Hale County, Alabama — the subject of his 2018 award-winning film, “Hale County This Morning, This Evening,” while also investigating Ross’s broader formal and conceptual languages that emphasize his everyday experiences.
In Spell, Time, Practice, American, Body, you witness the evolution of Ross’s artistic practice, which developed organically through his personal engagement with the people and spaces of Hale County. The exhibition offers a fresh methodology for documentary storytelling, particularly from and regarding a multifaceted Black experience, which for centuries has been articulated through an inherent sense of “otherness” by the white gaze.
Spell, Time, Practice, American, Body includes Ross’s body of work, South County, AL (A Hale County) 2012-2014, with 19 photographs, as well as eight never before exhibited photographs from its continuation, South County, AL (A Hale County) 2018-present. The photographs from South County, AL (A Hale County) 2018-present are large-scale (60 x 48 inches) photographic images that expand upon themes of place, time, race and identity — ideas central to Southern art — and at the forefront of Ross’s contemporary visualization of the South. For the first time, Ross will also incorporate sculptural work and a video installation, which cross-pollinate and build upon themes embedded within his photographic practice, to create an all-immersive multimedia environment. Offering an intimate look at his early inspirations, the exhibition includes ceramic African American Santa figures painted by Ross’s late mother, Gisele Ross.
Spell, Time, Practice, American, Body also actively connects Ross’s practice to the historic trajectory of artists inspired by the mythology of Hale County. His work builds on — and adds new layers of complexity and experience to — iconic works like James Agee’s seminal 1941 book, “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,” which features photographs by Walker Evans, and to artists like William Christenberry, who immortalized Hale County in paintings, drawings, photographs and sculptures across several decades.
Ross arrived in Hale County over twelve years ago to teach photography and workforce development, and shortly thereafter, began documenting the county, state and its people. Returning South with Georgetown University and Rhode Island School of Design diplomas in hand and as a professor at Brown University, Ross embodies and extends the spirit of W.E.B. Du Bois’s sociological pursuits as he is invested in intimate, longitudinal engagement within families and the community. The toiled masterpieces, labor and visions of the Great Migration’s children loop through American culture to instigate Ross’s curiosity and return to “use time to figure out how we’ve come to be seen,” he explains, and “continue, however alternatively, a critical illumination of the souls of Black folks.”
For Ross, the focus on Alabama and by extension, the American South, is a return to the birthplace of the concept of African American identity and its Blackness, as well as the structures of racism and oppression that continue to shape the lives of Black people in the United States. In Ross’s vibrant, large-format film camera imagery, historical and canonical depictions of Black people in the South are upended and replaced with his singular aesthetic. The notion of the Black person is made ambiguous in narrative and strategically plural in interpretation. In effect the work functions as representational relief and a prism for meaning brought by the viewer — a meaning rendered new with each viewing, granting his photograph’s protagonists the unsettled potential, perspectives, histories and futures that exist within what has too often been viewed as a monolithic identity.
Of his vision, Ross says, “I’ve wanted to unburden the expectations of Blackness, and toy with the power of personal experience and one’s relational proximity to communities to shape observations and in turn memories. ‘Liberated documentation,’ as I term it, it’s that Western ethics and values of documenting and the document are unsuited to deal with the complexity of Blackness. I want to make work that unitedly honors its participants, resists their easy consumption and judgement, and quietly asks our imagination and intellect to question the known and easy constructions of identity and place.”
RaMell Ross’s history with Ogden Museum dates back to 2018-2019, when his photographic work was featured in the exhibition, New Southern Photography, which highlighted the breadth of photography being practiced in the American South. In the same year of this exhibition’s opening, Ross’s film, “Hale County This Morning, This Evening,” won a Special Jury Award for Creative Vision at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, and was later nominated for the 2019 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. In conjunction with New Southern Photography, the film was screened at Ogden Museum and followed by a panel discussion.
Following the close of New Southern Photography, Ross’s 2012 photograph, iHome, and 2014 photograph, Sleepy Church, were added to Ogden Museum’s permanent collection, and again shown in the Museum’s 2020-2021 exhibition, Revelations: Recent Photography Acquisitions. Ross also contributed an essay to the catalog for Ogden Museum’s 2019-2020 exhibition, Memory is a Strange Bell: The Art of William Christenberry.
“We couldn’t be more proud to host this exhibition at Ogden Museum,” says Richard McCabe, Curator of Photography for Ogden Museum. “RaMell Ross is making history with his poignant storytelling abilities, and consistently captivating his audience through his artistic practice. His narrative is one that draws you in through its emotional and personal content.”
“Ogden Museum is fortunate to have a special relationship with RaMell Ross, one that started back in 2018 with New Southern Photography,” says William Pittman Andrews, Executive Director of Ogden Museum. “RaMell’s talent is undeniable, and we thank him for allowing us to be a part of his journey. The narrative in his visual language is deeply compelling and reflective of our mission, and he has already made a significant, signature impact on the world of art.”
Spell, Time, Practice, American, Body will open at Ogden Museum on September 25 and will be on view throughout the duration of the international art festival, Prospect.5. The exhibition is anticipated to travel on a national tour following its close in New Orleans.
Accompanying the exhibition is a catalog with essays by Richard McCabe, Curator of Photography, Ogden Museum of Southern Art; Scott L. Matthews, Professor of History, Florida State College at Jacksonville; Tracy K. Smith, former U.S. Poet Laureate (2017-2019); and RaMell Ross.
Spell, Time, Practice, American, Body is curated by Richard McCabe, Curator of Photography, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and organized by Ogden Museum of Southern Art.
About RaMell Ross
RaMell Ross is a visual artist, filmmaker, writer and liberated documentarian. His work has appeared in places like Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA; Institute of Contemporary Arts, London; Birmingham Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NY; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans, LA; and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN. He has been awarded an Aaron Siskind Foundation Individual Photographer’s Fellowship and was a 2020 USA Artist Fellow. His feature experimental documentary, “Hale County This Morning, This Evening,” won a Special Jury Award for Creative Vision at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and 2020 Peabody Award. It was nominated for an Oscar at the 91st Academy Awards and an Emmy for Exceptional Merit in Documentary Film. RaMell holds degrees in Sociology and English from Georgetown University and is an associate professor of art in Brown University’s Visual Art Department. His work is in various public and private collections, and has been featured in Aperture, ArtForum, The Atlantic, Daily Show, Dissent Magazine, Filmmaker Magazine, IndieWire, New Yorker, NY Times, TIME Magazine, Variety, Village Voice, among others.
About Ogden Museum of Southern Art
Located in the vibrant Warehouse Arts District of downtown New Orleans, Louisiana since 1999 and open to the public since 2003, Ogden Museum of Southern Art invites visitors to experience and learn about the artists and culture of the American South. Ogden Museum is home to a collection of more than four thousand works, making it the largest and most comprehensive repository dedicated to Southern art in the nation, with particular strength in the genres of Self-Taught art, Regionalism, photography, and contemporary art. The Museum is further recognized for its original exhibitions, public events and educational programs, which examine the development of visual art alongside Southern traditions of music, literature and local craft.
Ogden Museum is open daily from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Admission is free to Museum Members and $13.50 for adults, $11 for seniors 65 and older, $6.75 for children ages 5-17 and free for children under 5.
The Museum is located at 925 Camp Street, New Orleans, Louisiana 70130. For more information visit ogdenmuseum.org or call 504.539.9650.