A reflection on family history, slavery, and complicity by one of the Glassell School of Art’s own, Nell Gottlieb, is now in its final week at Community Artists’ Collective (CAC). The exhibition, Choked on Cotton, is available by appointment through Saturday, June 20. To schedule, email Michelle Barnes, CAC executive director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 713.523.1616. Social distancing and face masks required.
Rethinking the Past
Francesca Fuchs, Block Program department head, recalls that during Gottlieb’s two years in the studio-practice program (2016 to 2018), Gottlieb “was already working on processing what it means to be a white woman who was raised in the South in the 1950s and 1960s: How segregation and history looked so different from the perspective of growing up white compared to what was actually happening in the South at the time.
“In her work, she was searching to expose the disjunction between the two. She was also starting to engage with the history of her antebellum plantation family home, Klein, in Alabama, which had been left to her, as a place to rethink the past,” Fuchs said.
Gottlieb’s family home now houses her nonprofit community organization, Klein Arts & Culture, which organizes cultural activities to promote the redress of injustices.
Encouraging a New Dialogue
Choked on Cotton reflects Gottlieb’s wrestling with her grief and remorse over her family’s cotton-plantation heritage and sense of her own complicity in America’s legacy of racism. Using family images, the artist references white and black narratives of her Alabama family’s plantation past to both document and transcend time.
“I hope viewers will examine this work through their own lenses and have a dialogue with me in person or through the work about the history of racist institutions and racism in our country and what we can do in our own spheres of influence,” Gottlieb said.
Communicating and Sharing
Michelle Barnes, executive director at CAC and an artist herself, invited Gottlieb to exhibit at the CAC galleries in May. “Nell expresses in various media a quest for information about her Anglo family and their relationship with the African American community of Klein,” Barnes said. “At least equal to her quest is her interest in communication and sharing what she has learned through the process. I want to support the conversations that lead to greater harmony and understanding among people who value humanity in spite of perceived differences.”
Gottlieb is donating all proceeds from sales to the Community Artists’ Collective. Choked on Cotton continues through Saturday, June 20.
Community Artists’ Collective was established in Houston in 1985 by Michelle Barnes, artist, educator and gallerist; and Sarah Trotty, artist and educator at Texas Southern University. In addition to exhibitions, CAC focuses its efforts on youth and adult arts education, entrepreneurship, and community development.