It's my dream to go back to my hometown
and give a show as somebody. . . as an artist.
~ Winfred Rembert
Self-taught African-American artist Winfred Rembert, born in 1945 in southwestern Georgia and given away at birth, is the subject of director Vivian Ducat's first feature-length documentary All Me: The Life & Times of Winfred Rembert. Tracing the remarkable story of how one man overcame racial discrimination and injustice in the segregated Deep South to, as Rembert says, "be somebody", the film, released in 2011, unveils Rembert's memories through the art he used to transform his pain and share his joy.
Rembert's is an unlikely artistic career path. As a child, he labored in the peanut and cotton fields of Georgia and he grew up largely unschooled. He took part at age 19 in a civil rights demonstration in Cuthbert, Georgia, and subsequently was arrested and imprisoned, though he was never charged formally with a crime and was never given a trial. He managed by some "amazing grace" to survive an attempted lynching before being jailed, his seven-year prison term including time on a chain gang.
In 1995, some years after being released from prison, where he had been introduced to leather crafts, Rembert set up a studio in his home and began to carve, tool, and dye images on the leather he hand-prepared. His wonderfully colorful artwork took as its subjects his experiences of African-American life, not only the harshness of field work in Cuthbert and the brutality meted out to men on chain gangs, but also singing in church and dancing in juke joints, listening to jazz and playing pool.
In 2000, work by Rembert, who resides in New Haven, Connecticut, was paired with linocuts by Hale Woodruff in an exhibit, "Southern Exposure: Works by Winfred Rembert", at Yale University Art Gallery, and one of Rembert's works, a triptych of a lynching, entered Yale's permanent collection. (His work can be found in other public and private collections as well, including that of the Richard M. Ross Art Museum at Ohio Wesleyan University.) Ten years later, New York City's Adelson Galleries, in association with Peter Tillou Works of Art, Litchfield, Connecticut, gave Rembert a solo show (information about Winfred Rembert: Memories of My Youth, show catalogue, here and here).
Last year, Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, New York, put together a major museum retrospective of Rembert's work. The exhibition has traveled to Greenville County Museum of Art in Greenville, South Carolina, and Flint Institute of Arts, Flint, Michigan; it will open at Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama, on September 14 and continue there until January 5, 2014 (information here). A catalogue from the show (see image above to left) is available. (At the link for the retrospective at HRM, you'll find a selection of images that I encourage you to browse.)
Below is a 2:23-minute preview of Ducat's important documentary, which is available on DVD (it can be found on Amazon, iTunes, and xBox):
Three clips from the film may be viewed here.
The moving, award-winning film continues to be screened around the country; this year, it has been seen at such venues as The Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Flint Institute of Arts, Flint, Michigan; and Adelson Galleries Boston. Since 2011, the documentary has been shown at numerous film festivals, including Hamptons International Film Festival, where it premiered, Chicago International Film Festival, Atlanta Film Festival, Women's International Film & Arts Festival, New Orleans Film Festival, and Newark Black Film Festival. In addition, it has been screened at the Albany Civil Rights Institute's 50th anniversary celebration of the civil rights movement in Albany, Georgia; and at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, California, Yale University Art Gallery, Herbert Von King Cultural Arts Center in New York City, and Kinz + Tillou Fine Art at the Outsider Art Fair held earlier this year in New York City.
All Me on FaceBook and Pinterest
Martha Schwendener, "Odyssey Through Jim Crow Era, Carved in Leather", The New York Times, March 16, 2012 (This is a review of Rembert's exhibition "Winfred Rembert: Amazing Grace" at Hudson River Museum. Photos of some of the more than 50 paintings from the show are included.)
Terence Clarke, "The Art of Winfred Rembert", HuffPost Arts & Culture, July 15, 2011
"Ohio Wesleyan Receives Six Original Winfred Rembert Artworks", January 4, 2011
Winfred Rembert, Don't Hold Me Back: My Life and Art (Children's Book)