What does it look like to resurrect a re-imagined history and the future it nods towards? For Greenville, S.C., artist Stephanie Howard, the answer is “Southern Arcana” as the artist makes her return to the hostess city with a solo show at Laney Contemporary Fine Art Gallery, her first Savannah exhibition in four years.
A 2004 SCAD graduate, Howard’s work is steeped in folk art and literary tradition said Laney Contemporary’s owner and namesake Susan Laney, “Her family and background comes from outsider art. Her grandfather was a reverend, who made folk and outsider art, so she’s always looking at what people are making and collecting."Get Savannah arts & culture news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our morning, afternoon and our Dine newsletters
“Her day job is as a librarian,” continued Laney, “so there’s a lot of literary background and reference but she’s living it. She’s always reading, looking things up, and searching for new inspirations but it’s always very much centered around outsider and folk art.” The exhibition takes its name and inspiration from Tarot cards, a divining device used by many different cultures over the past five centuries. The Tarot deck is divided into the Major and Minor Arcana. The major representing time in the past, and the minor representing that of the future.
Howard’s Major Arcana documents a fictional community of Appalachian women which Howard describes as a “balancing force in contrast to powerful and horribly hate-filled southern, mask-wearing male organizations of the past. Ideally, this female tribe would have spanned generations and could balance the scales of feminine and masculine energy in a fictitious history, providing justice or witness to unchecked atrocities,” according to the artist's press release.
The Minor Arcana consists of floral still lives and domestic scenes that use symbolism and repetition to represent the idea of discerning the future from messages passed through daily household ephemera.
“Black marbles float on the surface of Howard’s drawings,” reads the exhibitions synopsis, “as if cast runes, predicting knowledge of the future. Like some homemade version of an ancient tea leaf ceremony, the marbles appear to be cast onto a patterned kitchen tablecloth, each inky square of the checkerboard hand-rendered, revealing patterns of behavior and daily life. The uncertain future is revealed as a game played with the intimacy of the kitchen table.”
“Stephanie does such a great job of sneaking in Southern details like the flowers, cabbages, and Nasturtiums, particular moths and certain ragweeds,” said Laney. “She’s pulling these particular things for very specific reasons. For me, I’m seeing that the overall story that she’s telling about this Southern culture that’s sort of unknown goes through cultural barriers. The borders on her work are very quilt-like, like her grandmother would’ve sewn because she comes from a family that has so much art background, her reverend grandfather would make boxes upon boxes of collages, so she was inspired and taught from her family before she even went to SCAD.”
“I also love how Stephanie is creating a narrative based on something that should be happening or should have happened and may have happened," she added. "There’s a playfulness and connectivity that she experienced in her own life that she’s reliving and retelling in a different way. I love how these narratives pull off of history to make a new history. There’s a desire to think about why things are the way they are and what made them this way, all while having fun with a new narrative.”