Miranda Lash slips through a maze of wooden crates, which have been stacked in long rows through the back hall of the Speed Art Museum. In front of her, there’s an open hangar door with two semi-trucks parked outside — both of which, just hours ago, were filled with boxed-up art.
“They got here at 8 o’clock this morning, so they’ve been here about five hours unloading at this point,” Lash says.
Lash is the contemporary curator of the Speed and the co-curator of “Southern Accent: Seeking the American South in Contemporary Art,” the exhibition to which all these newly unloaded pieces belong.
The show debuted at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University and is scheduled to open at the Speed on April 30.
“Southern Accent” pulls apart the South’s complex social, political and cultural landscapes, resulting in what Lash says is the museum’s biggest and most ambitious contemporary art exhibition to date. This is due, in part, to the sheer size of the collection she helped curate.
There are 60 artists represented, and there will be more than 150 works on view — hence all the crates.
“Thankfully our video pieces just come on flash drives,” Lash says, laughing.
“Southern Accent” feels potent right now, in part, because of politics. The South – and more pointedly, rural America – has been alternately praised and demonized for President Donald Trump’s ascendancy.
Lash says that oversimplification of the region is an inspiration for the show.
“There are works that are overtly celebratory or overtly critical of the South, and we actually shied away from those,” Lash says. “We didn’t want anything that was simply saying ‘The South is amazing,’ and we didn’t want anything that said, ‘The South is just a land of problems, there’s nothing but a racist backwater.’ We didn’t want either of those because lived experience is far more complex.”
Instead, Lash says the exhibition focuses on works, primarily from the last 30 years, that view the South as a question. For example, there’s a photograph by artist Diego Camposeco that features a migrant worker in a field of tobacco leaves. He’s wearing a mask that looks like the face of the character Diego from the children’s show “Dora the Explorer.”
“It’s sort of like, “Well, what’s going on here?’” Lash says. “How does this speak to how the population of the South changed demographically? How does it speak to the agricultural industry of the South? And how does that intersect with pop culture?”
“Southern Accent” features the voices of Southerners from varying racial, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds — which Lash hopes will demonstrate that the region is more like an evolving concept, and that might inspire people to ask some questions of their own.
“Southern Accent: Seeking the American South in Contemporary Art” will run through Oct. 14.