L. Kasimu Harris: War on the Benighted
New Orleans-based writer and photographer L. Kasimu Harris has a three-part exhibition, L. Kasimu, curated by Kamau Ware, at Warehouse Gallery in Brooklyn that closes June 24, 2016. As storyteller and observer of contemporary culture, the exhibition is both a presentation of L. Kasimu’s photography and the result of a New York residency where his creative process was influenced by his love for fashion, journalism, food, and music. Also included in the exhibition is a video performance, In A Blackness Continuum, created as a way to examine police brutality against black men.
L. Kasimu brings a lifetime of influences to his work and a desire to tell the stories of his city and his community. He considers significant issues, but also appreciates the beauty in life, makes him a unique and compelling artist.
In A Blackness Continuum
Harris contends, through his video, that the time, nor, place or person matters, when it comes to the killing of black men. This project is storytelling of real people and Harris exploring with the space-time continuum, space-time does not evolve, and it simply exists, to illuminate truths of men. He uses trees as a portal to transport to these recurring events. Moreover, Harris starts this journey in 1955, the decade when recorded lynching began to taper off and the trees represent that history. Harris continues with men from each decade and ends in 2015 when the new lynching has become police killings and the advent of mobile recording devices has made the masses into an audience.
L. Kasimu Harris has had stints as a semi-professional baseball player, a deputy sheriff, and a jazz trumpeter—all before going to college. Now, he’s a writer, photographer and occasionally a model. He created Parish Chic, a style column for the Oxford American and has been published in Yahoo Food, Edible New Orleans and Southern Living and The FADER.
Harris, a New Orleans native, has been in more than 20 group exhibitions across America, one abroad and three solo photography exhibitions, 2013, 2015 and 2016. The most recent, L. Kasimu, curated by Kamau Ware was at the Warehouse Gallery in Brooklyn. That show marked Harris’ New York debut and featured War on the Benighted, a narrative constructed reality series about students’ upheaval over their poor education. His second solo exhibition, The 10 Year Journey: Reflections of Family, Identity and New Orleans, ran from August to November 2015 at the George & Leah McKenna Museum of African American Art and garnered positive reviews in several publications. Harris’ first solo exhibition, Dreams Do Come True, investigated his dreams and subconscious thoughts, garnered national and international attention. The title photograph was included in the opening credits of season four for HBO’s Treme. Last year, Harris was in both The Rising and Louisiana Contemporary at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. He garnered coverage in The New York Times and NPR from his inclusion in The Rising. He also showed at Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago for the Dandy Lion (Re) Articulating Black Masculinity that’s now a traveling exhibition with stops in San Francisco, Miami and London, until 2019.
Harris’ work modulates between photojournalism, documenting culture and constructed realities, all in an effort to tell stories of underrepresented communities in New Orleans and beyond.
Harris is unafraid to step in front of the camera. In 2012, he was featured in the Wallpaper City Guide: New Orleans, an internationally distributed paperback book. Harris was the opening image for Southern Living’s March 2013 issue for their feature on the “South’s Most Stylish Cities,” where he’s dubbed as “the Bill Cunningham of the Crescent City,” a reference to the long-time street style photographer for The New York Times. He was also featured in the December 2013 issue of Travel & Leisure. He was also included in the September 2015 style issue of Esquire for “Fifty Men Looking Their Best.” And currently, he’s the face of William + James’ lookbook for their s/s 2016 collection of bow ties.
Harris graduated with a B.B.A. in entrepreneurship from Middle Tennessee State University and earned an M.A. in Journalism from the University of Mississippi. He furthered his studies at the Fellowship for Young Journalists at the Poynter Institute and the Oxford American Summit for Ambitious Writers. His work can be found at www. Lkasimuharris.com and http://warehouse-gallery.com/collections/l-kasimu
War on the Benighted
War on the Benighted is a narrative constructed reality series of photographs about students who became so frustrated with the inequalities in education; they rise up and began a quest to educate themselves. The story commences after students’ individual rising action was set in motion by of a dearth of educational possibilities. Their grievances are with the school-to-prison pipeline, emphasis on standardized testing and an ever-diminishing arts curriculum. Collectively, they seek more. The title of Gordon Parks’ A Choice of Weapons and images of child soldiers were inspirations to this work. But these students’ coup d’état was a mental one, creativity is their weapons, and the journey is an escape from low-opportunity and educational captivity.
This work was also shaped by Harris’ personal experiences as a student in New Orleans, 1984-1997, both public and private school, when the school system was still neighborhood based and the overwhelming majority of the teachers reflected the community that they served. Moveover, Harris taught for six years, 2009-2015, in New Orleans, including two years as a full-time teacher, after the school system shifted to all charter schools, post Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
SoHo Street Residency
“L. Kasimu is the exhibition of the future. It’s more than a showing of an artist’s work but an invitation to join the artist’s creative practice. L. Kasimu Harris is perfect for this exploration of visual storytelling because he sees the narrative in many facets – food, fashion, music, and journalism.” – Kamau Ware, Curator
Similar to food, this my Parish Chic Style column was a great connector, where style was the bonding agent and relationships were forged between shutter clicks and pose adjustments. But, beyond the style, it’s people’s stories that interest me and style will be our proverbial meal that brings us together. I contend that recording the lives and interest of ordinary people is too often overlooked. I’m as interested in the natty dress person from Iowa as I am the person from Italy. It’s unlikely the great fashion cities of the world will ever crumble and style coverage will almost always originate from those places. But, what about everywhere else, where’s their representation?
Yet, one can’t pass the opportunity to photograph style in New York, arguably, the capital of all things. Ware arranged the shoot on Jersey and Crosby streets in SoHo, and said it’s one of the more photographed places in the city. In a city pegged for its perpetually fast paced, no time to talk, people–almost everyone said yes. Yes to stranger with a camera. For me, style photography is my opportunity to document people, place and time. And that is important work; it becomes an early draft history.
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