CAM Screens Documentary of Seminal Self-Taught Black Artist Nellie Mae Rowe, featuring Uzo Aduba

Rowe’s story comes to life with 3D animation reenactments and the voice talents of Emmy-winner Uzo Aduba at a free Cincinnati Art Museum screening.
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Image courtesy Cincinnati Art Museum

Nellie Mae Rowe was born one of ten children to a freed enslaved person on the Fourth of July 1900, although having no birth certificate, she may have adopted the date, like Louis Armstrong, for its auspiciousness. It’s in that same spirit of creative liberty that the filmmakers of This World Is Not My Own: The Limitless Story of Nellie Mae Rowe, having little archival footage, reenact her life with 3D-modeled animation and the voice talents of Emmy-winner Uzo Aduba.

“We’re thrilled to host the Cincinnati premiere,” says Emily Bauman, curatorial assistant and manager of the film series at Cincinnati Art Museum. “This World offers a prismatic exploration of Rowe’s life and relationship with art.”

Rowe’s mediums included whatever was at hand—crayons, markers and colored pencils, but also chewing gum which she made into painted figurines and old stockings which she fashioned into countless handmade dolls. Dr. Julie Aronson, Cincinnati Art Museum’s curator of American paintings, sculptures and drawings, describes the artist as “astoundingly creative” noting her “exuberance, imaginative power and jewel-like color.”

Rowe’s most audacious accomplishment was her small house and yard in Vinings, Georgia. Dubbed “The Playhouse,” it was an evolving installation of soft sculptures, found objects, mobiles, wind-catchers, streamers, bottles, collages and assemblages. Her neighbors in the Jim Crow South could sometimes be cruel—throwing rocks or firecrackers at her windows—and the film lends context to her deceptively heavy themes and inspirations which ranged from American racial terror to women’s domestic roles to dearly-kept African folklore. By the end of her life, she had been befriended by a wealthy patroness and gallerist.

Today, she is today regarded as one of America’s most important self-taught Black artists, and her work is held in permanent collections at The Met, The Smithsonian American Art Museum, The American Folk Art Museum, and The Studio Museum in Harlem. Some of her work is currently featured in the Cincinnati Art Museum exhibit Creating Connections: Self-Taught Artists in the Rosenthal Collection, which Aronson curated and is on view not through October 8.

The film screening will feature introductory comments and, afterwards, a question-and-answer session with the co-director Marquise Stillwell, an NYC-based designer, filmmaker, and entrepreneur whose other productions include ReUp (2020) and The New Bauhaus (2019). Hailed as “luminous” by Artnet and “captivating” by The Hollywood ReporterThis World Is Not My Own won the award for best cinematography at the Atlanta Film Festival in 2022.

This World Is Not My Own: The Limitless Story of Nellie Mae Rowe screens for free at the Cincinnati Art Musuem’s Fath Auditorium Thursday, August 31 at 7 p.m. Reservations not required; seating is first come, first served.

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