History Refused to Die

Thornton Dial American

Not on view

One of the most revered contemporary self-taught artists, Dial integrated into his work mass-produced objects and organic materials, all infused with rich symbolic resonances. His impressive History Refused to Die incorporates torn and stained clothing, wire, and other common materials as well as okra stalks and roots. The plant serves as a metaphor for the shared history—the "roots"—of people whose personal genealogies tie back to Africa. Widely associated with Southern cuisine, okra is indigenous to Africa and, like many other foodstuffs, came to the Americas via the international slave trade. Its presence in Dial’s sculpture evokes the ecological transplantation that paralleled the forced displacement and enslavement of millions of Africans throughout the New World.

History Refused to Die, Thornton Dial (American, Emelle, Alabama 1928–2016 McCalla, Alabama), Okra stalks and roots, clothing, collaged drawings, tin, wire, steel, Masonite, steel chain, enamel, and spray paint

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Photo: Steve Pitkin/Pitkin Studios