“The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse”
              Noah Simblist
              “The South got something to say!” declared André 3000 at the 1995 Source Awards, after Outkast were awarded Best New Artist to boos from the audience. Goodie Mob, another Atlanta-based hip-hop group, released a track called “Dirty South” that same year. Both these events are cited by curator Valerie Cassel Oliver, who also notes in her catalogue essay for “The Dirty South” that the term had been in use since at least the 1980s. So what does it mean? We know that the American South is below the Mason–Dixon line, but what’s dirty about the prevalent image of it? Is it the paradox of living with violence and corruption while also celebrating its finer qualities, as Goodie Mob suggests? The Northern fantasy of rural life and unpaved roads that resist Cartesian order? An intermingling of African, European, and Indigenous traditions? This is not the first exhibition to focus on the American South in recent years. In 2016, “Southern Accent” opened at the Nasher Museum: a thirty-year survey show that treated the region as an “emotional idea,” a term borrowed from William Faulkner. What’s new about the VMFA exhibition is its focus on the particularities of Black culture in the …

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