‘I may pay rent to a friend for my place in Greensboro, but the South’s my landlord; and I’m trapped in its stomach trying to get to its brain. Here, I see butterflies with Confederate flag-grown wings and minstrel vestiges of Daddy Rice collecting dough. I can’t move because I’m stuck in Aunt Jemima’s syrup.’

Spell, Time, Practice, American, Body is the highly anticipated first book by artist, filmmaker, and writer RaMell Ross. Bringing together Ross’s large-format photographs, sculptures, conceptual works, and selected films, together with illuminating texts by Ross and a host of writers, this ambitious publication presents a chronicle of the American South that is both mysterious and quotidian, a historical document and a radical imagining of the future.

The book opens with a series of illuminating colour photographs from Hale County, Alabama, Ross’s adoptive home and the setting of his Academy Award-nominated documentary Hale County This Morning, This Evening (2018). It then moves through a series of photographic and mixed-media works and writings that examine, deconstruct, and rewrite visual representations of the South. Amidst these works, at the book’s heart, is Ross’s film Return to Origin, a remarkable conceptual work in which Ross freight ships himself in a 4x8-foot box – a nod to Henry Brown who shipped himself to freedom in 1849. With Spell, Time, Practice, American, Body, Ross creates a new visual narrative of the South, freed from its iconic meanings to reveal the earth, dirt, soil, and land beneath.

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