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July 08, 2022

Acquisition: Winfred Rembert

Winfred Rembert, "G.S.P. Reidsville"

Winfred Rembert
G.S.P. Reidsville, 2013
dye on carved and tooled leather
overall: 62.87 x 93.35 cm (24 3/4 x 36 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Gift of Funds from Glenstone Foundation

Winfred Rembert's (1945–2021) deeply personal and visually striking art emerges from his experience growing up in the American South during the Jim Crow era and often celebrates his birthplace of Cuthbert, Georgia. The National Gallery of Art has acquired its first work by the artist, G.S.P. Reidsville (2013), a striking composition that sparks conversation about US history and engages with other works in the collection, such as paintings by African American artists Jacob Lawrence and Horace Pippin.

Rembert survived a near-lynching and seven years in the Georgia prison system, experiences that he documented in a recent memoir, Chasing Me to My Grave (Bloomsbury, 2021), which was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize. After his release, and encouraged by his wife, Rembert used leatherworking techniques that he learned from a fellow prisoner to create autobiographical paintings with cut, tooled, and dyed leather. In G.S.P. Reidsville, Rembert illustrated his experience of working on a chain gang while serving time at the Georgia State Prison (G.S.P.) in Reidsville. The central panel depicts the chain gang working in front of the prison, while the enlarged surrounding figures collectively form an imposing frame. The pattern of black-and-white uniforms, black-and-orange soil, and red-and-brown sledgehammers creates a work of mesmerizing complexity. With its intricate division of space into numerous panels, the composition conveys to the viewer a sense of being trapped—much as the figures themselves are trapped.

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