Deep River: The Cummer’s Striking New Exhibit

Suddenly it’s dark and cold. You’re surrounded on all sides by the flowing projections of water. Sounds of chirping birds and the current, ebbing and flowing, even sparkling, are all around. As your eyes slowly adjust to the sudden darkness, you begin to see a mound of soil take shape in front of you, filling the center of the room. The soil is strewn with everyday objects seemingly abandoned by past inhabitants of the space. Dozens of reclaimed wooden discs, each containing a portrait of a single figure, surround the mound of dirt and populate the installation. Together, these elements create a haunting and mesmerizing passage. There is a sense here that the viewer stands among generations of people reflecting on a time in history that did not deliver all it promised. You look around in an attempt to take it all in, as Whitfield Lovell’s Deep River envelops you. It is captivating.

TheCummer Museum of Art & Gardens is thrilled to present the work of MacArthur Fellowship winner and internationally-recognized artist Whitfield Lovell. World-renowned for his thought-provoking portraits and signature tableaux, Lovell’s multi-media installation, Whitfield Lovell: Deep River, explores the ideas of memory, identity, and freedom. Through a utilization of sculpture, video, drawing, sound, and music, his art creates an environment that fully engages the viewer’s senses and emotions as it pays tribute to the lives of anonymous African Americans. For Lovell, the river symbolizes the final boundary to freedom.

“I like it when art can be an experience that transforms place and time,” Lovell says. “I always find it really exciting and interesting that people relate to the work in ways that are not obvious, and that’s the beauty of it.” Lovell says that though there are distinct connotations of slavery within the installation, he’s equally concerned with arousing more abstract ideas of freedom, hope, the strength of the human spirit, and what those concepts mean to each individual who views the work.

Also included in the exhibition are a number of mixed media drawings from Lovell’s ongoing Kin series. Each of the Kin works features a portrait along with a single object. The images come from mug shots, photo IDs, passport images, and photos from the end of the Civil War to the beginning of the civil rights movement that Lovell has collected. The resulting arrangements suggest the fraught circumstances faced by many African-Americans at different points in U.S. history, while the pairing of the two shines a light on these obscure figures’ identity and dignity and creates intriguing narratives that are left open for the viewer’s interpretation.

“This is more about tapping into a psychological or emotional place where you can feel something,” Lovell says. “A lot of us are really trapped and imprisoned mentally, if not by our circumstances, and there’s something about hope that’s so intoxicating, that keeps us all going.” Now through September 13th, visitors can become engulfed within the river itself, surrounded by projected images of water and the sounds of the environment, and move alongside Lovell’s haunting Conté crayon portraits as companions on the ongoing search for freedom.

The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens is located at 829 Riverside Ave, Jacksonville. For hours and more information, visit

About Holly Hiday