“This work is a journey of research and reconciliation. I look into the past, upon the histories of Black people in this country – I look into the gaping ambiguity of what is the beginning of Black identity,” Jovan C. Speller writes. “I attempt to conjure the ‘who’ that we were before we were stolen, transported, sold and exploited. At least, that’s where I began. Swallowed by the missing and forgotten ancestors and traditions. Where I have arrived is a different place entirely. Standing somewhere at the edge of the end and a beginning.”

With In Lottie’s Living Room, Jovan C. Speller traces a story that emanates from local lived experience and reveals the complex interdependence of land, community, and culture. Taking root in her family’s multigenerational stewardship of land in Windsor, North Carolina, acres once tended by enslaved ancestors, Speller’s installation addresses interwoven histories and creates a space in which new futures might be embodied.

In Lottie’s Living Room marks the transition of these lands through generations, and the tremendous efforts to maintain these acres within the family. In the last one hundred years, discriminatory government policies and white supremacist violence radically changed the scale of Black land ownership – resulting in the loss of just under one million Black farmers and a 90 percent loss in their acreage. Speller’s work communicates within this context, yet expands outwards toward the continuing cultural memory that both honors these sacrifices and sustains her family, and many others.

This installation builds up on her 2019 Relics of Home installation at the Paramount Center for the Arts in St. Cloud, Minnesota, which presented material from the land in North Carolina and its buildings – clothes, living room furniture, cotton – alongside Speller’s photographic documentation of the place and her relatives. In Lottie’s Living Room continues this inquiry into how everyday objects and family stories can honor their local dynamics and also sing into a shared continuum of cultural experience. Speller’s work in this series also includes objects from her family life growing up in California, items that suggest further forms of inheritance within the Black rural diaspora. “Each installation is a representation of a fragmented memory, now passed on to me,” Speller shares. “A physical embodiment of the intersection of memory and myth.”

Jovan C. Speller is a resident of St. Paul, and she is a recent McKnight Visual Artist Fellow and the recipient of a previous Jerome Foundation Emerging Artist Fellowship. Speller’s photography has been published and exhibited widely across the United States, and her curatorial projects have been presented in institutions such as the Walker Art Center and the Rochester Art Center.

︎︎︎return to exhibition artists
︎︎︎further information at Plains Art Museum
High Visibility is a longterm, collaborative partnership between Art of the Rural, Plains Art Museum, and individuals & organizations across the continent. Please feel welcome to join us in this work.