A modern Mississippi: Art museum to tell stories of Natchez

Published 12:21 am Wednesday, May 18, 2016

NATCHEZ — The Mississippi Museum of Art wants to tell Natchez’s story along with the rest of the state’s as part of its Mapping a Modern Mississippi initiative.

Inspired by the museum’s modern arts expedition running through Oct. 30, the staff was interviewing Natchez residents who “dare to be different” as the contemporary artists of the past century Monday and Tuesday.

“We met with people from all walks of life in Natchez, brewers, distillers, rappers, artists, educators and CEOs,” said Julian Rankin, marketing director of the Jackson museum. “We want to connect the inspiration of artists important to America with people important to Mississippi.”

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Rankin was recording video at various locations Monday and Tuesday as he and MMA Mapping a Modern Mississippi Campaign Director Anik Kurkjian were interviewing people including rapper Henry “Big Hen” McKnight, Adam Elliott with the Quapaw Canoe Company, members of the family-run Old South Winery and Ed Songy, an 80-year-old programmer.

“I’m obviously not from Mississippi,” said Kurkjian, a Briton, U.K., native. “But I call myself a Mississippian because I am proud of all the incredible things people are doing all over the state.”

Kurkjian said the people of Natchez stand out.

“When we come here as tourists, it is great seeing the tours,” she said. “But when you get to know the community here, some say the people here are really the jewels of Natchez.”

Rankin said the program is only able to scratch the surface in the Mississippi communities, and he invited folks to send in videos or written stories to the museum.

“This is really for the people, by the people,” he said. “We want to gather up as many stories as we can.”

“I’d like to encourage people, if they see us, to come say hello,” Kurkjian said.

Because a person wouldn’t expect an 80-year-old to be a computer programmer, Kurkjian said Songy’s story is particularly interesting.

“He taught himself these developmental languages at his age,” she said. “It shows that sometimes what is cool for one group might be different for others.

“There are a lot of young programmers, but there aren’t many his age.”

Even someone who has lived in Mississippi — or Natchez — his or her whole life stands to gain from this project, Rankin said. He said it’s easy to become complacent and limit what you know about people.

“With stories like this, people can really see how unique their communities are,” he said. “That’s why it’s important to collect this information — to lift people up.”

Mapping a Modern Mississippi’s website is msmuseumart.org/index.php/map. Kurkjian said Natchez’s story would go online in a few weeks.

Artists in the modern art exhibit at the museum include Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Georgia O’Keeffe, Mark Rothko and more than 50 others.

The work of these iconic 20th century artists will be on view together in the state for the first time from April 9 to Oct. 30 in “When Modern Was Contemporary: Selections from the Roy R. Neuberger Collection,” the Museum’s 15th presentation in The Annie Laurie Swaim Hearin Memorial Exhibition Series.

The museum is located at 380 S. Lamar St. in Jackson. Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. For more information, contact 601-960-1515 or visit www.msmuseumart.org.