At the Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina, Johannes Barfield (MFA ’18) took home the $10,000 Atrium Health Best in Show Award for his work included in the exhibition Coined in the South. The artist’s multimedia pieces In The Bilge Again (2017) and The Green House on Cornell Blvd (2019) shared the floor with work by 44 of his peers from North and South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
“I didn’t anticipate winning anything,” says Barfield. “It’s just a nice opportunity to be able to show in my home state. And [Coined in the South] is a show particularly that was honed in and focused on individual artists that are working in the South. So, I thought that was really dope to be able to have the opportunity to show on a large scale like that.”
The exhibition, which opened Oct. 10, 2019, and closes Feb. 16, also included a piece by Barfield’s wife, Stephanie J Woods, titled Lavender Notes (2019). Barfield says Woods was the first to tell him there was an open call for Coined in the South last year.
Barfield’s accepted artworks, though two years apart, share themes of personal memory, family history and place. In The Bilge Again (above) features concrete and asphalt slabs hung side-by-side, separated by a blinding fluorescent bulb. The piece was inspired by The Negro Motorist Green Book, a Jim Crow-era travel guide written by postal worker Victor Hugo Green for African Americans navigating segregation and hostility in the U.S. Barfield used the book to create an abstract portrait of himself and his father. A page about his hometown Winston-Salem was presented in the asphalt half, while a page about his father’s hometown of Meridian, Mississippi, is shown on the obscured concrete side.
“It’s kind of like the collapsing of those worlds, how they’re similar and how they’re very different,” Barfield says about In The Bilge Again. “My father is somewhat of a mystery person. … He’ll tell me subtle things [about his life], small fragments, but they’re really powerful. But at the core of it, I still don’t know a lot about his history. So I shrouded that one in concrete. You can’t read it very well. But my history is an open book to me, so I decided to keep that pretty open.”
For the show, the Mint Museum selected a photo of Barfield standing with his other work, The Green House on Cornell Blvd (lead image), for promotional materials. The 2019 piece is a different kind of portrait, combining a photo of his cousin Kesha printed on fabric with hand-harvested red clay, evoking both an image of a family member and the tactile memory of playing outdoors as children. But an attached yellow canvas smeared with asphalt connects the past with their present lives—hers as a bus transporter and his as a traveling artist.
“Sharing moments like that can tug at the heartstrings a little bit,” says Barfield, “because this is really my first time showing something this personal.”
Artwork by Barfield and his wife were selected by a jury that includes VCUarts art history alumnus Adam N. Justice (MA ’04), then the assistant curator of modern and contemporary art at the museum. Justice has since taken a new position as the director of galleries at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.