At the Hands of Persons Unknown
At the Hands of Persons Unknown explores how trees have been silent witnesses to the lynchings of women in the American South. In most cases women were lynched along with their husbands, sons, or brothers as it was thought that they could not sustain themselves. Most of these women were black, some of them white. Lynchings have occurred all over the U.S. in particular during Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era, but the largest number happened in the South.
When moving to Chapel Hill in 2013, I became aware of this issue and was wondering about the stories of these women. Many of the women were probably my age or slightly younger, some were pregnant when they were lynched, others had children. Having an African-American husband and a child, we could have had difficulties 50 years ago (the Loving vs Virginia rule in 1967 ended a ban on mixed-race marriage in the U.S.), which motivated me to work on this topic. Whereas some artists like Ken Gonzalez-Day or Hank Willis Thomas have created art on lynchings of men, nobody I am aware of has dealt with lynchings of women.
The large-scale series (images are 40” x 40”) of black and white images evokes so called “re-memories” of the personal and collective trauma. Through long exposures and movement of the camera, the trees are abstracted and look almost like x-rays or ghosts. Notwithstanding, these horrific events can never be truly known and never fully be understood.
This project also includes a video and a moving lamp (that is still work-in-progress).