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Artist ID: 2446

Artist Statement for the series Under This Sky

Under This Sky is a series of photographs taken at lynching sites in the Southern United States. Most are looking up towards the sky, sharing the space the victim held in their last moments.

I Looked Up and The Sun Burst Out is the first image in the series. It was taken on Herndon Street in Mobile where Michael Donald was lynched. On March 21, 1981, 19-year-old Michael Donald was abducted. He was beaten with a log and dragged with a rope tied around his neck, his throat was then slit. His abductors brought his lifeless body to Klansman Bennie Hays’ house on Herndon Street in Mobile. Before daylight Michael’s body would be strung from a branch across the street.

With the help of Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Michael Donald’s mother Buelah Mae Donald, successfully sued the Klan and was awarded a seven-million-dollar judgement. The Klans’ property in Tuscaloosa was sold and wages were garnished which went to Buela Mae, but that was a mere fraction of the amount awarded. However, the judgement bankrupted the Klan and made it impossible for them to buy land or operate in any manner that used collateral because any future assets would go to the settlement for a long time to come. Morris Dees, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said that it was a “verdict that marked the end of United Klans”.

Sonja Rieger is a Birmingham based artist and photographer. She grew up in the Northeastern United States, calling Massachusetts home. In 1979, she accepted a teaching position at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, a move that influenced the course of her artwork and the direction of her explorations. Rieger is interested in the visual traces of history, culture and politics and how they leave a mark on a people and a place.

She has exhibited widely at regional and national venues, most recently a portfolio of eighteen prints was acquired by the Centro de Arte Alcobendes in Madrid, she has exhibited at Carmen Wiedenhoeft Gallery in Denver, Colorado during Denver's month of photography and at; the Contemporary Art Center in New Orleans, Louisiana; the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston Salem, North Carolina; the Ogden Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana; and the National Museum for Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. Other exhibitions of note are at the A.I.R. Gallery, White Columns and the Sherry French Gallery, in New York; at the Jones Troyer Fitzpatrick Gallery, and the Martin Gallery in Washington D.C., at the Fotogalerie Bordenau in Frankfurt, Germany; and in Hitachi, Ibaragiken Japan. Her work is in the collections of the 21st Century Museum Hotel, the International Polaroid Corporation, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Huntsville Museum of Art, and other corporate and private collections.

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