Joe Minter's African Village in America

Words can’t begin to describe the environment of Joe Minter, nor can I tell you how lucky I am for getting to spend a few hours with he and his wife, Hilda, at their home on this perfect Saturday afternoon.  Maybe photos will tell…
African Village in America
Joe Minter (1935-)
Birmingham, AL
Visionary environment
Private property, visible from the street
Created: 1989 – current
Joe Minter’s “African Village in America” is located in southwest Birmingham, Alabama, in the lot next door to the house where he and his wife Hilda live. Behind their house and environment is the sprawling segregated cemetery, Shadowlawn, where his father is laid to rest. We walk the cemetery, and Joe gives me a lesson in the legacy of Birmingham’s civil rights movement. (He was at the Kelly Ingram Park in 1963 when fire hoses and dogs were violently turned on the peaceful protesters.) He worries that those hard fight lessons are being lost and his home is a powerful reminder to all that stop.

Painted a brilliant blue, and despite its chain-link fence enclosure and its pathways of wooden planks and metal siding sheets – the home and environment are intimate and densely packed with both lush plantings and sculptures. Signs reminding, and teaching, the visitor of the contributions of African Americans in America.
The brightly painted tin and wood constructions, mixed-media pieces made of found objects-dolls, old car parts, chains, and cast-off boots-and placards painted with statements from Scripture and the Civil Rights movement. All are dominated by huge silhouettes of abstract metal and wooden shapes, many recalling human forms that loom against the sky. Underfoot are pathways of rusted metal and found lumber (punctuated by fire ants…be forewarned.) 
As we walk the sculpture garden environment, Joe points out individual pieces that tell the story.  Discards, tossed away scraps, echo the message of man’s cruelty towards his fellow man.  But also springing up with the same intensity of their colors, are monuments to hope and compassion. The sculptures frame Minter’s home, occupy the carport on the house’s other side, pack the garage behind it, and even in another house across the street, Minter’s messages fill the yard and porch.


It was a special treat when Hilda and Joe invited me into their densely packed home to see a dvd created about the African Village in America.  (He also wrote and self published a book of African American contributions and his reflections.)  I left just as the sun had set, knowing that this was truly a blessed day.  

More photos in my flickr set
To learn more about Joe Minter’s African Village in America, please visit detour art