Americana: Alabama

A Portrait in Black and White
September 05, 2007 to September 22, 2007

The inaugural segment of Americana at the Wattis Institute examines Alabama through the pairing of Lin Shi Khan and Tony Perez's 1935 book of linoleum cut prints, Scottsboro Alabama: A Story in Linoleum Cuts, and Howard Cruse's 1995 graphic novel, Stuck Rubber Baby.

In a limited-edition book of black-and-white linoleum cut prints, Khan and Perez document the infamous Scottsboro trial, a drawn-out legal battle over the fate of nine African American boys falsely accused of raping two white women in 1931. Through the pairing of text and image, the book illustrates the history of African Americans in the South from slavery to the Scottsboro trial, emphasizing the case as a catalyst for interracial cooperation within the American Communist Party.

Written and illustrated by Alabama native Howard Cruse, Stuck Rubber Baby chronicles the life of Toland Polk, coming of age in civil-rights-era Alabama and coming to terms with his own homosexuality and ingrained racism. Drawing on the comic book tradition and using dark humor, Cruse interweaves aspects of the 1960s sociopolitical climate with expectations of manhood in the South.

These two cultural artifacts resonate and contrast with each other on many levels, together portraying Alabama as complex and multilayered. In both stories, Alabama's well-known history of racism and civil-rights struggle is underscored by more unexpected aspects of life in this state, such as its connection to Communism and the experience of growing up gay in the South. The artists and storytellers use a similarly striking visual language to illustrate the complex past and present of Alabama.

Jessica Brier

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