"When all is said and done in terms of the turmoil of the nation," said Patt Gunn, "we turn to our artists for relief. We turn to our artists for strength. We turn to our artists for guidance."
Gunn joined myself and guest co-host AJ Perez on Art on the Air this week to talk about the newly created Savannah Gallery on Slavery and Healing, which she co-founded with Roz Rouse of the Mt. Zion Project. The idea for the art space came from her time as CEO and tour guide for Underground Tours of Savannah, described as a cultural heritage destination tour company.
"When we leave our tour at Johnson Square, our last stop is the slave auction block and we come together, and people don’t want to leave the square." She told me, "Once we finish the tour they simply are in such awe, they’re reflective. So we decided we’ve got to finish the conversation. The gallery has been that extension of the conversation."
The project is the latest chapter in a life steeped in activism and a commitment to social change, something that began over 40 years ago when she left Savannah temporarily to pursue a career in criminal justice and law.
"I had an opportunity to work with some of the best lawyers in the nation on the social justice causes of death penalty work, jail conditions, all kinds of innovative pieces for abortion rights," Gunn reflected, noting that she tries to apply those lessons to the things she does today. "I realized that all of the tools that I’d learned in those social justice environments would have to be the same tools that I’d have to apply to Savannah."
As the gallery’s name implies, it focuses on both slavery and healing, specifically the journey from slavery, to freedom, and finally to emancipation. To help convey that mission, Gunn and Rouse brought in co-curators Eric Saul and Dr. Amy Fiske to help them put together the photographic collection currently on display in the gallery.
"We specifically wanted to pull pictures to have people come in and see how enslaved Africans looked at the end of the slave era in 1864 in Savannah." She said, "So you can come in there and see downtown city market and freed people sitting in the heart of city market." Adding that other photographs allow viewers the opportunity to see the early days of "the west Savannah area, Carver Village."
But the artwork isn’t only a reflection of the past. Highly contemporary pieces fill the gallery as well, with a number of pieces on loan from the collection of Bernice and Andy Tate, as well as works from local artisans and even West African artists.
"We’re just trying to take [the viewer] on a whirlwind from slavery to freedom," she related, "and when they come out of there they feel healed and can feel the human spirit of our people."
The Savannah Gallery on Slavery and Healing is located at 718-A Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.. Visits can be arranged at anytime by calling 912-596-2491.
Listen to my entire interview with Patt Gunn alongside special guest co-host AJ Perez embedded here!
Tune in to "Art on the Air" every Wednesday from 3-4 p.m. on WRUU 107.5 FM in Savannah, and streaming worldwide at www.wruu.org. Next week we’ll be joined by Lisa Watson and Jennifer Moss to talk about environmentally conscious art, including the work of "Re::Claimed," the upcoming group exhibition at Sulfur Studios!
Art off the Air is a digital-only column that is posted every week on dosavannah.com as a companion piece to the WRUU 107.5 FM show "Art on the Air."
Rob Hessler is an artist, host of the radio show Art on the Air on WRUU 107.5 FM Savannah, and Executive Director of Bigger Pie, a Savannah-based arts advocacy organization.