The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

May 07, 2013

Jonathan Green: The Low Country rice culture

Posted by Valerie Nahmad

By Dias Dobson, Gantt Center

Jonathan Green — the painter whose work, A Spiritual Journey of life, is currently on display at the Gantt Center — is more than an artist: he’s a visionary, an intellectual and a history teacher. As a proud South Carolina native, Green has made it his personal mission to educate the world on the history of rice cultivation in the Low Country.

While listening to Green during the exhibition’s opening weekend, it seemed like rice was always the topic of discussion. He wants to create an ongoing dialogue and bring attention to the often untold story of the Low Country rice culture that played a major role in the economic success of the United States. During the 1700s, the key to the success of the rice culture lay in finding an area in the US that could produce a tremendous volume of rice. Spanning from the North Carolina coast of Wilmington through South Carolina, Georgia and to Jacksonville, Florida, the rice fields of the Low Country produced what has been called “Carolina Gold” making Charleston, South Carolina one of the richest cities in the United States for over 100 years.

Green has been working with scholars from the University of South Carolina, the College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina at Beaufort, as well as with various cultural institutions and National Park Districts, to create a rice symposium that will take place in October 2013.

He considers rice so representational of the artistic, musical, linguistic, food-way and economic contributions made by Africans to American culture, that he’s used R.I.C.E as an acronym for Race, Ingenuity/Injustice, Culture, and Economy. The project’s stated mission is to “reveal and reclaim the shared cultural inheritance of the southeastern rice economy as a basis for promoting community development and advancing the cause of human dignity.”

Green wants to focus on the incredible contributions enslaved Africans made to the rice economy, which lasted well over 200 years, literally building the southeastern United States. The idea of the Rice Project is finding pride in a horrendous history. He wants to look at all that it took to prepare the rice fields; including moving hundreds of cypress logs, creating the dykes, and creating the infrastructure.

With his Rice Project, Green hopes to educate people about the heritage of the Low Country, as well as create a platform for honest, informative discussions around the culture and history of rice.

Artist Jonathan Green


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