No Space Hidden

The Spirit of African American Yard Work

  • Author(s): Gundaker, Grey, and Judith McWillie
  • Series:
  • Imprint: Univ Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 2005-04-25
  • Status: Active
  • Available in Paper: Price $26.95 | Buy Now

Winner of the 2006 James Mooney Award

Dating from their earliest habitation in North America, people of African descent have used visual and material means to express their ethical values and their beliefs about the intersecting worlds of matter and spirit. In No Space Hidden, Grey Gundaker and Judith McWillie combine oral testimony, firsthand documentation of sites and artworks, insightful analysis, and over two hundred photographs to explore African American devotional arts centered in homes and domestic landscapes.

Focusing primarily, though not exclusively, on the southeastern United States, the book examines works ranging from James Hampton’s well-known Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly (now part of the Smithsonian collection), to several elaborately decorated yards and gardens, to smaller-scale acts of commemoration, protection, and witness that African Americans have created in and near their homes. The authors show how the artful arrangement and adornment of everyday objects and plants express both the makers’ own experiences and concerns and a number of rich and sustaining cultural traditions. They identify a “lexicon” of material signs that are frequently and consistently used in African American culture and art – including the all-seeing eye of the “diamond star,” the reflective surfaces that invoke divinity, and the watcher figures that represent messengers of judgment and authority – and then show how such elements have been incorporated into various individual works and, most important, what they mean to the practitioners themselves.

As the authors point out, a remarkable consistency is apparent in the goals of those who create these works: service to God, justice on earth, and community improvement are chief among their aims. In illuminating these goals and documenting their expression through specific cultural practices, No Space Hidden makes invaluable contributions to our understanding of African American religion, art, folklore, and material life.

Grey Gundaker is an associate professor of anthropology and American studies at the College of William and Mary. Her books include Signs of Diaspora/Diaspora of Signs: Literacies, Creolization, and Vernacular Practice in African America and Keep Your Head to the Sky: Interpreting African American Home Ground (coedited with Tynes Cowan).

Judith M. McWillie is a painter and chair of the Department of Drawing and Painting at the Lamar Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia. She has written articles for such journals as Artforum and for various anthologies, including The Art of William Edmondson and How Sweet the Sound: The Spirit of African American History.