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No Space Hidden: The Spirit of African American Yard Work Paperback – April 25, 2005


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Editorial Reviews

Book Description

Dating from their earliest habitation in North America, people of African descent have used visual and material means to express their ethical values and their beliefs about the intersecting worlds of matter and spirit. In No Space Hidden, Grey Gundaker and Judith McWillie combine oral testimony, firsthand documentation of sites and artworks, insightful analysis, and over two hundred photographs to explore African American devotional arts centered in homes and domestic landscapes.Focusing primarily, though not exclusively, on the southeastern United States, the book examines works ranging from James Hampton’s well-known Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly (now part of the Smithsonian collection), to several elaborately decorated yards and gardens, to smaller-scale acts of commemoration, protection, and witness that African Americans have created in and near their homes. The authors show how the artful arrangement and adornment of everyday objects and plants express both the makers’ own experiences and concerns and a number of rich and sustaining cultural traditions. They identify a “lexicon” of material signs that are frequently and consistently used in African American culture and art – including the all-seeing eye of the “diamond star,” the reflective surfaces that invoke divinity, and the watcher figures that represent messengers of judgment and authority – and then show how such elements have been incorporated into various individual works and, most important, what they mean to the practitioners themselves.As the authors point out, a remarkable consistency is apparent in the goals of those who create these works: service to God, justice on earth, and community improvement are chief among their aims. In illuminating these goals and documenting their expression through specific cultural practices, No Space Hidden makes invaluable contributions to our understanding of African American religion, art, folklore, and material life.

About the Author

Grey Gundaker is an associate professor of anthropology and American studies at the College of William and Mary. Her books include Signs of Diaspora/Diaspora of Signs: Literacies, Creolization, and Vernacular Practice in African America and Keep Your Head to the Sky: Interpreting African American Home Ground (coedited with Tynes Cowan).Judith M. McWillie is a painter and chair of the Department of Drawing and Painting at the Lamar Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia. She has written articles for such journals as Artforum and for various anthologies, including The Art of William Edmondson and How Sweet the Sound: The Spirit of African American History.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: University of Tennessee Press; 1 edition (April 25, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1572333561
  • ISBN-13: 978-1572333567
  • Product Dimensions: 10 x 8.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,873,071 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By a reader on December 5, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This, and Gundaker's Keep Your Head to the Sky, are the ultimate authorities on spiritual yard art traditions heroically preserved throughout slavery down to the present day by the oral tradition of black Americans. The swept dirt yard is seen even in upscale neighborhoods -- for example, in Anacostia, D.C. per a piece in the Washington Post by Deneen Brown -- transformed into immaculate concrete pavements or carefully gravelled terraces, edged with roof flashing, and embellished with an empty, perhaps gilded, chair. All of deep spiritual significance, and visible wherever Africans have been held in slavery in the Americas, including Cuba.

As garden design, African-American yard art is far more water-conserving than the aristocratic English gardening tradition which prescribes large swathes of expensive and worthless lawn. (In England, it was sheep grazing, not worthless. Unless you're raising sheep, you should get rid of your lawn.)

As outsider or visionary art, and a key to understanding such museums as the wonderful one in Baltimore (American Visionary Art Museum), definitely worth a detour, the Gundaker books are indispensible.

Finally, for those interested in the straight edge punk DIY revolution which is sweeping the blogosphere as the under-40s champion "upcycling", Africans in the Americas have been "upcycling" for 400 years. The vision with which a cam shaft is regarded and turned into an axis mundi with which to properly dress and respect a grave, the uses of hubcaps and upturned bottles, cauldrons, what rich people would call "junk", as if God created junk, and so forth, is transformative and resurrecting. In Keep Your Head to the Sky Gundaker gets the scholarly imprimatur proving that these traditions exist still in Africa and that the slaves, over the generations, secretly transmitted them to their children. Powerful, powerful stuff.
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