We’re very pleased to host this feature about a powerful exhibition that took place this fall at the Library Technology Center of North Georgia College & State University. ~ Laura

An open hand, wooden planks, and a banjo greet visitors to the Affrilachia in Words and Images exhibition.

“Kindred Vow” by Marie Cochran, 2012.

by Terri Gunter

During the month of October, the Library Technology Center of North Georgia College & State University hosted Marie T. Cochran’s Affrilachia in Words and Images exhibition, sponsored in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.   Most impressive about this exhibit was the extensive collaboration among the groups that came together to create it.  Cochran, the founder of the Affrilachian Artist Project, worked closely with several North Georgia College & State University departments – the Library Technology Center, Georgia Appalachian Studies Center, Department of Visual Arts, Office of Multicultural Services, as well as the photography faculty from North Georgia Technical College- to create this exhibition.

Student works from both North Georgia College & State University and North Georgia Technical College were included in the exhibit.  North Georgia gallery director and art professor Craig Wilson reflected on the exhibit, “This exhibition is evidence of one of the compelling results that are possible within an environment of collaboration,” and indeed, the exhibit represents the work of many.  Cochran’s ability to bring this huge undertaking to fruition was admirable, and with it, she accomplished three specific goals: to acknowledge, embrace, and remember the contribution made by African Americans to Appalachian culture.

Kindred Vow by Marie Cochran, 2012.

“Kindred Vow” by Marie Cochran, 2012.

Beginning on the first floor the viewer was greeted by the first set of contemporary photographs which were student works from North Georgia Technical College.  These photographs, 40 in all, graced all three floors of the Library Technology Center. On the second floor landing, Cochran’s monumental installation piece entitled, “Kindred Vow,” served to unify the exhibit with a grand gesture.  The sculpture represented an offering in the form of an open hand, which was set upon a wood platform along with other symbolic objects including an antique banjo.  The giant windows and walls behind this installation were used for the large portraits of children created from antique glass plate negatives from the Lon Bruce collection in the Library’s archives. These memorable faces could be seen from the exterior of the library and were particularly haunting at night as you approached the building. The installation was framed by wall tapestries decorated with text that repeats two phrases, one in Cherokee syllabary, the other African script.  At the end of the landing, enclosed in glass cases like precious gems, actual antique glass plate negatives and proofs were exhibited along with books written by Affrilachian writers.  On the third floor in the Push Pin Gallery, historic images and research by North Georgia students were displayed. According to  Wilson, “These 19th and 20th century photos depict African Americans from our region’s forgotten past whose struggles and triumphs broke racial barriers and whose lives contributed to the gains of the Civil Rights movement.”

Cochran’s installation piece set the stage for the viewer to appreciate the “gesture of a hand” and there were plenty of these gestures echoed in the photography and historic research exhibited. There were hands clasped in prayer, hands raised in celebration, hands playing musical instruments and hands holding loved ones. This aspect of the exhibit focused on generations: the prominent elders, the family unit, and the youth.  In these images, one can see the handing over of a heritage from pioneers of Affrilachia to a new generation of her sons and daughters who are embracing and claiming their importance in Appalachian culture. From the melodic sound of a banjo playing in Cochran’s installation on the 2nd floor and throughout the exhibition tribute is paid to the often neglected historical contributions of African Americans.  The banjo symbolizes contributions that have their very roots in Africa and also serves to attest to how little most of us know and acknowledge about the history and making of our Appalachian culture.

The library’s exhibit closed October 31, but its presence will be felt for a very long time in our community and especially within North Georgia’s Library Technology Center.

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