About the Artist
Nell Gottlieb works in multiple media to reexamine her coming of age, white and female in the Jim Crow South, and her heritage of racism and white supremacy as a descendent of slave-owning cotton planters. She considers the pain of returning to the South after a long absence, while confronting the racist mythologies and complicated legacies of the region. In 2019, Gottlieb completed the Block Program of the Glassell School of Art at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. She has shown her work in national, regional, and local juried shows, had a solo exhibit, Choked on Cotton, in 2020 at the Community Artists’ Collective in Houston, and has two works in the Hobby Airport Collection. She is co-founder/president of Klein Arts & Culture, an Alabama non-profit organization that facilitates racial reconciliation through the arts. She is past-president of ClayHouston and has served on the board of the Visual Arts Alliance (Houston). She holds a BA and MA (psychology) from Emory University and a PhD (sociology) from Boston University. She is professor emeritus of public health education at The University of Texas at Austin, where she taught from 1980-2011. A native of Alabama, she moved to Texas in 1980.
I work in multiple media to reexamine my coming of age, white in the Jim Crow South, and to use that developing understanding as a lens to view the racism and nativism in America today. My childhood, under the strong influence of a matriarchal grandmother, had one foot in the gloried and faded Southern past. I was unaware of the apartheid existence I lived and of its targeted suppression of African Americans. The stain of racism, the curse of the South, was my heritage. My work shifted in 2016 after visiting Alabama for the first time in many years. Nostos Algos, the pain of return, is the etymology of nostalgia. This is the journey I take through my art. My work builds on Michel Foucault’s concept of the materialization of memory. Memory is embedded in objects and materials. I bring together fragments of my own memory and post-memory from family history through photographic images on plates, found objects from my childhood, and objects I have made. Although the narrative in my work is sometimes presented in a linear fashion, my conception of history is not linear and progressive. The racism and violence portrayed across the 20th and 21st centuries are equivalent. My selection of images and objects recontextualizes these elements of memory and creates a fictional, but personal, narrative. My specific experience and memories in this installation form a moment in which others can participate, caught in the forces of the everyday: family, nostalgia, suffocation, blindness, politics, racism, and violence. Each of my works has multiple meanings that are available to the viewer as her own experience deepens.