by Marie T. Cochran, Director
The Affrilachia Artist Project
Nine times out of ten, when I introduce someone to the word “Affrilachia”, they laugh or a quizzical smile crawls across their face.
Why? … not just because it’s a creative take on a word, but also because myths abound about the region of Appalachia—an expanse of 200,000 square miles including parts of 13 states. In spite of common misconceptions, the region includes more than one ethnicity and a series of isolated enclaves. Recent efforts celebrating the history of Appalachia reveal the fact that its inhabitants are as diverse as its terrain—which ranges from high mountain peaks to gentle hillsides, and from rural agricultural communities to bustling metropolitan areas.
How We Began
The Affrilachian Artist Project was inspired by a writers’ group called the Affrilachian Poets and the resurgence of old time music championed by string bands like the Carolina Chocolate Drops. The project started with a modest goal, to create a digital Affrilachian Visual Artist Showcase featuring the work of living artists. I distributed a call for artists, pestered my colleagues and conducted late night Internet searches. As the names accumulated, a conscious effort was made to select artists who defiantly embraced the complex facets of their experience. The common denominator among the artists is their depth of community engagement. This remarkable series of events led to an inaugural exhibition, titled Common Ground: Affrilachia Where I’m From at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture in Pittsburgh, PA. This exhibition convened an array of artists born in or inspired by the distinctive qualities of the region.
After logging hundreds of miles that stretch across six states, I avoided any overarching aesthetic and chose artwork that possessed a powerful presence. In the process, I shared hearty laughter and even a few tears with the artists. They welcomed me into their studios and were incredibly generous with their time. A new name has become a cultural movement filled with promising affiliations.
Affrilachia is a place that is invisible on a map; yet it is manifest, through the rendering of the writer’s words on a page, the voice and sounds uttered by the musician and the creations wrought by the labor of an artist’s hands. In the end, each of us should have the power to determine what we are called and to proclaim where we are from.