What appears, at first, to be a jumble of white dashes on black, turns out to be prisoners on a chain gang. Blizzards of white dots are vast expanses of cotton, waiting to be picked for pennies a pound. This is the visual language of 67-year old African American artist, Winfred Rembert. His paintings--actually, hides of leather, carved, tooled and dyed--create a graphic diary illustrating life in the segregated rural south.
“ALL ME: The Life and Times of Winfred Rembert,” a feature length documentary directed and produced by Vivian Ducat, premiers this week at the Hamptons International Film Festival.
As Rembert’s experiences unfold on screen, we learn that the paintings are completely autobiographical. That includes the chain gang, on which he worked, while serving a prison sentence. He started in the cotton fields as a young child, when he picked alongside “Mama,” the great aunt who raised him.
Rembert’s visual story telling is especially astute when he depicts scenes of everyday activities in the environs of his native Cuthbert, Georgia. Pictures of pool halls and juke joints usually include portraits of specific characters.
The artist’s remembrances are riveting in their detail as he recalls the racism he suffered (including a near lynching) the poverty in which he was raised, and his civil rights activism.
Fascinating too, is Rembert's personal journey as an artist. As a kid he made his own toys from whatever materials he could find. Though he picked up leather tooling in prison during the 1970s, it wasn’t until the mid 1990s that Rembert started to translate his memories into images. With shows at Yale University Art Gallery, and Adleson Gallery in New York, his work has gained momentum with collectors.
“ALL ME” will also be shown at festivals in Chicago, Hot Springs and Albany, Georgia. Visit the film’s website for more info and all the details.
Family Picking Cotton, 2003
Saturday Shopping Day, 2000
The Wood Boy, 2007
Jeff's Pool Room, 2003
Smilin' Ben Shorter, 2009
Sugar Cane (Patsy's Mother), 2008
The Baptism, 2003
I got to meet the artist after a
screening of the film during the summer.
Photo: Joan Morgan