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  • Blaine Bilal

On sight-specific art & protest

Reflections on the work of the late, Georgia-based artist, Beverley Buchanan, and the role of place, memory, and histories within racial disparity in the U.S.

Artworks traditionally referred to as “site-specific” are designed for, and have an interrelationship with, a certain location. Taken out of their original context, site-specific works can lose their meaning or become something else entirely. There are many styles and examples of site-specific art, and as always, their impact often depends on their intent. Some, like James Turrell’s Twilight Epiphany (2012), are funded by institutions with the goal of being made completely knowable and accessible to the public, and inherently, celebrating the place where they reside. Others, like Beverly Buchanan’s Marsh Ruins (1981), are funded by the artist, perhaps with the goal of privately changing the landscape in order to protest or memorialize the place where they reside. I’ve been thinking a lot about the second (and private works of art in general), particularly as we live through a pandemic that’s being experienced so differently depending on exactly where you live, and as we continue living through racial injustice and acts of violence in the United States, asking us to ponder all acts of protest, both private and public.

Beverly Buchanan (1940-2015) was a black, woman artist who explored Southern vernacular architecture in her art. Buchanan, born in Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina, spent most of her childhood in South Carolina, and in 1969 received graduate degrees in parasitology and public health from Columbia University. Through the mentorship of Norman Lewis and Romare Bearden, and against familial, community and societal pressure, she decided to give up her public health career and dedicate her life to art. After a decade in New York and New Jersey, she moved to Georgia, where she lived and worked in Macon and Athens.

Buchanan’s work was primarily informed by the histories (and historical amnesia) of these various locations, and explored the relationship between memory—personal, historical, and geographical—and place. Buchanan engaged with art movements like land art, post-minimalism, and feminism, she linked political and social consciousness to the formal aesthetics of abstraction. Her body of work includes site-specific “earthworks” made in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, and during the late 1970s, she developed an approach to sculpture, called “frustula,” that placed the concise forms of Post-Minimalist art in dialogue with the realities of urban decay and social displacement.

Along with Marsh Ruins, we hope to celebrate and be changed by a few powerful, haunting and personal site-specific pieces by Beverly Buchanan:

Marsh Ruins (Sea Islands, GA), 1981

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