Paintings and Assemblages by Robert Claiborne Morris at Penn Center
Penn Center is honored to host Slavery by Another Name: Paintings and Assemblages by Robert Claiborne Morris, a mixed media art exhibition inspired by the Pulitzer-Prize winning book by Douglas A. Blackmon. Morris began to re-examine his understanding of race in America after reading an early proof of Blackmon’s book, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II, which explores the little-known practice of leasing African American convicts to private individuals and corporations – a practice that continued in some Southern states until after World War II.
The revelation that involuntary servitude continued until after World War II changed the way Morris saw his native South. He began an odyssey in search of the images, objects, and artifacts related to this “Slavery by Another Name.” From Georgia to North Carolina, he canvased the junkyards, flea markets, and historical societies, hunting and collecting, in the hopes of finding a medium that could both incorporate found objects and project images to artistically convey the spiritual darkness of involuntary servitude.
Slavery by Another Name: Paintings and Assemblages by Robert Claiborne Morris, is on display at the Penn Center’s historic York W. Bailey Museum and includes artifacts, images, portraiture, and the powerful and tragic photographs from this era allowing the viewer to emotionally engage the lives of those who were so inhumanely exploited after emancipation. Incorporated in Morris’ works are portraits, maps of the slave mines, courageous articles and images published by the Atlanta Constitution, blood money, letters to the Department of Justice pleading for mercy and implements of bondage and torture ranging from words to ropes, locks and chains. From a portrait of President Lincoln that incorporates burlap and the tin from the roof of an abandoned sharecropper’s shack, to shackles from a slave vessel that sway before the figure of an anonymous worker, this collection of art has helped bring to light this little-explored and less-understood chapter in American history.
The collection also helps to stimulate conversation, by engaging the viewers in a visual dialogue. In the end, the exhibit seeks to inspire the viewer to look into the past with greater understanding, and empathy. Morris’ hope is that the series of overlapping mediums awakens complex emotions and promotes reconciliation.
Blackmon, in the introduction of Morris’ Slavery by Another Name: Paintings and Assemblages, wrote, “Nothing has inspired me more than seeing this history stir the intellects of artists and scholars to probe yet further—whether into historical archive containing still more empirical evidence of the events or, as Robert Claiborne Morris has done, into the souls and minds of the era of one of the America’s greatest and least remembered crimes.”
Robert Claiborne Morris studied at The Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C., and Tulane University in New Orleans. His work has been included in a number of shows since 2008. Morris says that “despite a Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Douglas Blackmon and a documentary that appeared on PBS, most people who attend my openings have never before heard of this history. What makes art and museums so vital to our beloved community is that they have the ability to preserve and re-tell our history generation after generation through art.”
Robert Claiborne Morris is a painter known for his maritime landscapes, inspired by his previous career as an executive for the Georgia Ports Authority. Born in Washington, D.C., Morris travelled extensively across the U.S. as child visiting all of the continental United States and creating landscapes and writing stories everywhere he went. While studying painting at the Sidwell Friends School in Washington and Tulane University in New Orleans, Morris developed his unique approach of combining his writing and artistic skills to impact viewers and readers across the country.
His writings have appeared in publications such as The Atlanta Journal Constitution, The New Orleans Times Picayune and The Boston Globe. Tens of thousands of Americans have viewed his art in museums, galleries and libraries with a large range of informed, inspired and emotional responses. His collaboration with the Pulitzer Prize winning author Douglas A. Blackmon, filmmaker Sam Pollard and the late artist Thornton Dial, among others, have helped to bring the worlds or arts, letters and history closer together.
In January 2012, Morris was honored with a major, one-man exhibition at the prestigious Telfair Museum in Savannah, Ga. Since that time his work has been exhibited in museums, galleries and libraries in cities such as Atlanta, Birmingham, Cincinnati and Washington, D.C.
Over the course of his career as an artist, journalist and executive, Morris has strived to preserve the human spirit, the beauty of the natural world and impact how viewers and readers perceive their history and therefore existence.
Want To Go?
Event: Slavery by Another Name: Paintings and Assemblages by Robert Claiborne Morris, Formal Opening, Presentation by the Author and Reception
Date: Saturday, March 18th
Time: 6:30 pm-7:30 pm
Location: Penn Center, Inc. / York W. Bailey Museum, 16 Penn Center Circle-West, St. Helena Island, SC
Free and open to the public; light refreshments will be served.