We Have Made These Lands What They Are: The Architecture of Slavery

“This is our home. We have made these lands what they are,” declared a group of newly emancipated South Carolina blacks in 1865. Journalist, filmmaker and visual artist Keris Salmon documents antebellum southern plantations and slave dwellings through text and image to explore the many significant links between her peoples’ past and present.

Opening reception and conversation with the artist February 18, 4 pm. On display in the cathedral February 17 to March 31. Open daily, free and open to all.

About the exhibit
Over and over again, writes historian John Michael Vlach, recently freed enslaved people “expressed a surprisingly intense connection to their former places of servitude.” Many wanted to return after emancipation. Understandably, after centuries of uncompensated toil, many felt the need to hold onto what little they believed was rightfully theirs.

Through extensive research in six states Salmon uncovered ledgers, diary entries, accounting logs, letters, slave auction records, transcribed WPA-era interviews and countless books to compile a continuous, though patchwork, narrative of the history of the American slave economy. By coupling words with impressionistic images she aims to give voice and life to the crude, quotidian realities behind the grand, sweeping staircases and Spanish Moss of sugar-coated tourist lore.

What results is a complexity of feeling and nuanced understanding of an institution that still defines us, and whose repercussions are coming into sharper focus in our current deeply fractured times.

The series of now 18 works was initiated with “Don’t Knock at the Door, Little Child,” on view at the Josee Bienvenu Gallery in Chelsea, New York in 2015. The first series of six photographic prints with letterpress text is now in the collection of the Tennessee State Museum.

About the artist
As a journalist Keris Salmon is drawn to storytelling through words, and as a visual artist she respects the way an image can bring a text alive. As a filmmaker she is refreshing the documentary form, working instead with still imagery. She is personally drawn to this material as an African-American with ties to ancestors from the largest American tobacco plantation in the antebellum south, home over centuries to a total of 447 slaves.

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