“THANK YOU GOD FOR THE HOLY GHOST FAITH VISION AND DREAM IN 1989 TO BE A WORKER IN THIS VINEYARD BUILT BY YOUR HAND MY LORD THY GOD IN LOVE AND PEACE TO OPEN THY CHILDREN EYES AMAN.”
-Joe Minter, painted on a sign at the entrance of the African Village in America, Birmingham, Alabama
In the summer of 1989, Joe Minter had a vision from God to create art that would honor the shared experiences of African Americans in this country. Of more local concern, he had also heard that the city of Birmingham was planning to build a civil rights museum and worried that the “foot soldiers” would be left out of the official narrative. As a direct response, Minter began building a sprawling collection of sculpture and installations on land adjacent to both his home and the Shadow Lawn Memorial Gardens, a historically black cemetery, in the Woodland Park neighborhood of Birmingham. The result is a continuously evolving art environment that recounts both immediately local and world events that have affected humanity, with a focus on the contributions and tribulations of African Americans. The African Village is completely constructed from materials that have been discarded, a direct symbolic gesture reflecting the artist’s belief that African-Americans have themselves been discarded throughout American history. In Minter’s words, “The whole idea handed down to me by God is to use that which has been discarded, just as we as a people have been discarded made invisible. That what is invisible, thrown away, could be made into something so it demonstrates that even what gets thrown away, with a spirit in it can survive and grow. A spirit of all the people that has touched and felt that material has stayed in the material. God supplies me with what is needed, what other people throw away as junk, what I find on streets, and in flea markets, outlet stores, Goodwill, Salvation Army. God gives me the messages to go on the art, in the African Village in America.”
In 2005, Minter produced the first edition of To You Through Me: The Beginning of a Link of a Journey of 400 Years,a creative manifesto and didactic field guide to his African Village in America yard show. Printed locally and sold out of his home for $27.77, the publication walks the reader through Minter’s yard with images of site-specific installations that are supplemented with prayers, maps, scripture, newspaper clippings, and charts. The works are not organized chronologically or thematically. Instead, the publication meanders through both the artist’s yard and mind in an intuitive manner. The book’s design is equally improvisational. Designed by Minter, it incorporates a variety of styles, fonts, and page layouts. The overall effect is one of urgency and an expression of palpable need for the artist to share his original vision, its basis in history and scripture, and the works that represent the continuous fulfillment of that divine intervention.
On the thirtieth anniversary of his vision, Institute 193 and Tinwood will re-issue To You Through Me: The Beginning of a Link of a Journey of 400 Years. It is our hope that those who cannot visit in person may use this first-person guidebook to experience Joe Minter’s yard and learn from his years of thoughtful meditations on history, place, and the human condition.
Note: the audio track was recorded during a visit to Minter's African Village in the fall of 2008. The music was playing from a stereo in the garage and occasionally makes the artist's words difficult to understand but certainly gives you a sense of place.
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