Next to two African American cemeteries is African Village in America, the home of Joe Minter and his wife Hilda of Birmingham (emphasis on the ham), Alabama. Standing since 1989 when Joe had a vision from God, the theme of the place is African-American history if you can get past the old sports equipment, baking pans, African masks painted on grill lids, feather headdress rakes, footwear, Christmas lawn decorations, crutches, hubcaps, dolls and large pieces of plywood that display hand painted Biblical passages. Speaking of religion, a tower of five satellite dishes spells out the word “Jesus” (I don’t know…you might’ve heard of the guy) while rusty pieces of iron resemble the World Trade Center towers with small plastic jetliners flying into the buildings. And that’s not the end of Minter’s recycled, homemade art; there is a “Death Penalty” sculpture made of an electric chair, lethal injection table, and two phones for the governor’s reprieve. Hand-painted street signs are found through the half-acre yard with with names like “Self Hate Street”, “Gang Warfare Street”, and “Babies Having Babies Having Babies Self-Genocide Street”. Sounds like the future name of some hipster’s band.
But in all seriousness, Joe truly believes in the message behind his work. He compares “Slave Ship”, made of old railroad cross-ties and rubber sharks, to the Native American experience, “The African had the Trail of Chains and Sharks.” The African Village has a connection to Birmingham and the Civil Rights movement as Joe believes all those hard fought lessons have been lost and his home serves as a powerful reminder to that time. All the tossed away scraps of junk from garage sales and flea markets represent man’s cruelty towards his fellow man. It is then turned into theological and philosophical statements on everything from the Iraq War to slavery to Hurricane Katrina. Even though this all sounds like a bit of a downer, Joe and Hilda love to show off his creations to visitors for free, even though there is a book and DVD for sale (why of course). Not sure if you call what he’s doing folk art, but whatever it is, get it straight to hipster Brooklyn. Because this shit’s way more interesting than the pretentious crap produced by the pink-haired, prison-tattooed, vegan trust fund baby artists working there. Some cool pics and info here.