Connelly Hardaway/Art by Fletcher Williams III

Local artist Fletcher Williams III has opened a new exhibition, Promiseland, at the Aiken-Rhett House, on view through July 15. You can visit the Aiken-Rhett House Thursdays-Sundays, 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Promiseland features new and recent creations from Williams including large-scale works on paper, sculptures and installations. The exhibition continues to explore Williams’ ongoing interpretation and disfiguration of the white picket fence, an emblem he defines as imbued with aspiration, social mobility and the American dream.

As you move throughout the Aiken-Rhett House Museum you’ll find representations of pickets that disrupt the historically complex symbol. The site-specific installations appear alongside video projections.

You’ll find nine works on paper; created from multiple rubbings of a single fence post and then painted with Spanish moss, these images present overlapping and intertwining white pickets.

The Aiken-Rhett house was home to enslaved people who lived and worked on the property, a history you can hear when you check out an iPod (or download an app) at the front desk of the museum. Needless to say, the power of Williams’ work speaks for itself when witnessed alongside the history of the enslaved people who once moved throughout the home.

In 2017 the Historic Charleston Foundation began hosting a tour of six private residences on the peninsula, including the Aiken-Rhett house, focused on the slave dwellings located “beyond the big house.” Led by cultural interpreter Joseph McGill, the tour takes the public into places previously unseen. In 2017, McGill told the City Paper, “This subject matter, it’s not pleasant, but it’s a subject that needs to be dealt with nonetheless.”

Williams’ work is rooted in the Southern vernacular and explores the complicated concept that is the American dream. Williams’ art is activism, from this current exhibition to past projects, like Revising Divisive Phrasing, which presented downtown Charleston’s palmetto rose sellers as artists rather than vendors.

In the past, Williams has shared his thoughts on art with the City Paper: “I’m not saying that people don’t want to make work that’s socially conscious or political or anything other than what we’re used to seeing. It’s not nurtured. It’s not welcome. I don’t know what it’s going to take to change that.” 

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