In 1989, sculptor Joe Minter began to assemble his African Village in Birmingham, Alabama.
He said that a vision came from God and told him to educate people about the hardships of African Americans through his art. As he puts it, the Lord set out a blueprint for him and he went about designing the destination.
After getting his vision from God, he started packing his lawn and yard with shrines and totems made from recycled and found objects. Using whatever materials he can get his hands on as a medium for his art, the sculptor creates pieces that speak to him and his vision for his collection. Items include old sports equipment, baking pans, Christmas decorations, pieces of discarded toys and dolls and old lawn decorations. These recycled items take on second lives as African masks, feathered headdresses, and warrior spears. Plywood pieces and pickup truck tailgates have become billboards covered in Biblical passages and historical facts to be shared with visitors.
Most of the pieces that he has constructed have moral or political messages ingrained in their design. His pieces represent everything from an African Warrior to the tragedy of lynching in American history. Even though some of his work may seem grim to the casual observer, he enjoys that his work gets people talking and discussing tough topics related to both current events and America’s past.
It seems fitting that the land that butts up to Minter’s property on both sides happens to be two huge African American cemeteries. Within the cemeteries are the remains of over 100,000 Africans who call these locations their final resting place. He feels that his work is connected to that land, as though there is an ancestral burial ground just outside of his property line and that his work is a part of the inhabitant’s stories.
The African Village in American is located at 931 Nassau Avenue, S.W. in Birmingham, Alabama. To get there follow I-65 exit 258. Drive west on Route 18 for one mile, then turn left onto Martin Luther King Jr Drive. Drive south and take the third right onto Nassau Ave. More information can be obtained by calling 205-322-7370.