Recent exhibitions honouring black artists have finally been at the forefront of cultural programming in the UK in recent years, making up for lost time and representation. The V&A’s ‘Africa Fashion’ is the largest exhibition showcasing fashion from the continent and the first of its kind at the museum; while, at the end of last year, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye became the first female black British artist to open a major exhibition at Tate Britain; and SoShiro’s recent exhibit ‘Not Black or Not white’ is a thoughtful, collaborative effort of creatives from Africa and the UK, celebrating heritage, craft and community.

The Royal Academy of Arts’ latest opening continues the pursuit of celebrating Black art in all forms, showcasing the unique artistic traditions and methods of visual storytelling by African American artists from the American South. Souls Grown Deep Like the Rivers: Black Artists from the American South is powerful and important, shedding light on the distinctive creativity of these artists, whose works often reflect the painful history of the South, touching on slavery, segregationist policies of the Jim Crow era, institutionalised racism, and the Civil Rights Movement.

The exhibition features around 64 works by 34 artists from the mid-20th century to the present day, in various media including installation, textiles, sculpture, paintings, and drawings, celebrating the diverse places in which people found their artistic voices. These works are mostly drawn from the collection of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation in Atlanta, Georgia, and while these artists are well known in the United States, most of the works shown are in Europe for the first time.

Highlights include a series of colourful patchwork quilts, stitched together by the celebrated quiltmakers of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, and the neighbouring communities of Rehoboth and Alberta. The Gee’s Bend quilts are renowned for their vibrant colours, bold geometric patterns, and the innovative techniques used to create them.

Large installation pieces and canvases also stand out, made from salvaged scraps, broken chairs, bits of wood and metal, fabric, an old record player and even an animal’s skull. The mundane is reimagined as works of art that also reflect the social and cultural history of the community that created them. Lonnie Holley, a Southern-born artist with an incredible history (and who was commissioned by Artangel in 2020 at Orfordness and whose show at Edel Assanti was a hit) has only truly become known in his 70s, working his entire life with found objects to create his art.

Bringing together works that are both visually exciting and historically significant, the exhibition highlights the profound influence of the American South on the art world and the importance of recognising the diverse artistic traditions of African American artists.

The exhibition opens on 17th March and tickets can be booked in advance online at or over the phone 0207 300 8090.