Letitia Huckaby: Bitter Waters Sweet
This week, we will be exploring projects that use the found photograph. Today, we’ll be looking at Letitia Huckaby‘s series Bitter Waters Sweet.
One of my students introduced me to the work of Letitia Huckaby last semester. Since then, I have continually returned to her work with its intricate combinations of fabric, photographs, and history. Letitia’s use of the printed image on fabric gives dimension to these stories. It feels as if we are seeing backstage, behind the curtain, the stories that usually aren’t told.
Today more than ever it’s important to address the stories that aren’t always told. Many stories of American history have a portion that gets glossed over or ignored; in Bitter Waters Sweet, that’s the origin, where Africans were trafficked as slaves. Letitia shows the hope and solace that can be found in this story. A return to history can give us new clarity. These stories are essential to understanding where we are today.
Letitia Huckaby has a degree in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma, a BFA from the Art Institute of Boston in photography and her Master’s degree from the University of North Texas in Denton. Huckaby has exhibited as an emerging artist at Phillips New York, the Tyler Museum of Art, The Studio School of Harlem, Renaissance Fine Art in Harlem curated by Deborah Willis, PhD, The McKenna Museum in New Orleans, the Camden Palace Hotel in Cork City, Ireland, and the Texas Biennial at Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum. Her work is included in several prestigious collections; the Library of Congress, the McNay Art Museum, the Art Museum of Southeast Texas, the Brandywine Workshop in Philadelphia, and the Samella Lewis Contemporary Art Collection at Scripps College in Claremont, California. Huckaby was a featured artist in MAP2020: The Further We Roll, The More We Gain at the Amon Carter Museum and State of the Art 2020 at Crystal Bridges Museum. Ms. Huckaby was a Fall 2020 Art Pace Artist in Residence and is represented by the Talley Dunn Gallery in Dallas. Ms. Huckaby is the Co-Founder of Kinfolk House, a collaborative project space that inhabits a 100-year-old historic home, where community and art converge in the predominantly Black and Latina/e/o neighborhood of Polytechnic in Fort Worth, Texas and she was named the Texas Artist of the Year for 2022.
Bitter Waters Sweet
Exodus 15:25 And he cried unto the Lord; and the Lord shewed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet: there he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them…
This body explores the legacy of Africatown, a historic community near Mobile, Alabama, that was founded by a group of West African people who were trafficked as slaves to the United States. These enslaved Africans were brought from Dahomey shortly before Emancipation and long after the Atlantic slave trade was banned. The ship that brought them, the Clotilda, was scuttled and set on fire in Mobile Bay not long after delivering its last cargo in 1860 to conceal its illegal activity. The wreckage was rediscovered in 2018 and is currently the subject of active archaeological research.
Through my project Bitter Waters Sweet, I use photographs printed on cotton fabric to bring together the legacy of Africatown, its founders and their descendants, with the history of the ship Clotilda and its persistent physical proximity to the community.
While creating this body of work, I was drawn to the water and the path 110 men, women and children were forced to travel. From the Gulf of Mexico around the west side of Dauphin Island they journeyed into Mobile Bay and ended up near 12 mile island. Africatown sits a stone’s throw from the Mobile River, and its inhabitants possess a strength like water. Water adapts to its environment, it changes what’s around it, it gives life, and it heals. Like the ocean, when it evaporates it leaves salt behind, which flavors anything it touches. This was my experience in Africatown, the people were giving, strong, and imbued everything with their history and culture.
Like the children of Israel, they found themselves in a bitter land, but through the power of community they built something sweet.
Epiphany Knedler is an imagemaker sharing stories of American life. Using Midwestern aesthetics, she creates images and installations exploring histories. She is based in Aberdeen, South Dakota serving as an Adjunct Instructor and freelancer. Her work has been exhibited with Lenscratch, Dek Unu Arts, F-Stop Magazine, and Photolucida Critical Mass. She is the co-founder of MidwestNice Art.
Follow Epiphany Knedler on Instagram: @epiphanysk
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