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Black Nature: Letitia Huckaby

Oct 02, 2020 — Jul 10, 2021

This exhibition takes its name from Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, a collection of historical and contemporary poems exploring African Americans’ complicatedrelationship with the American landscape. With this being the case, it comes as no surprise that Letitia Huckaby’s beautiful, ethereal images are enthralling and grounded in history, much like the book that served as the inspiration for this exhibition. In a recent catalog for an exhibition at Foto Relevancein Houston, Texas, Huckaby explained this series as“a visual pilgrimage following the path of Exodusters, African Americans who migrated from states along the Mississippi River to Kansas and Oklahoma in the late 19th century, and an exploration of the remains of Freedman’s towns across the south. It is an elegy for a lost promised land.”

Huckaby counts Louisiana as her ancestral home and she earned a degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma, creating a connection between the artist and her content. Her familial and personal history interestingly mirrors that of the Exodusters’ search for the American dream. The repetition of these stories feels cyclical and biblical, especially when her faith in the Exodusters are considered. African Americans’ emancipation is analogous to the story of the Israelites in the Book of Exodus, in that both were freed from enslavement and embarked on a collective journey to find a place for themselves. Given the fraught status of African American’s equity in America, it is safe to say no promised land has yet been reached. Instead, the search feels circular, like the embroidery hoops that frame Huckaby’s images. This observation is at once cynical, but also contains a grain of optimism born of longing.

The embroidery hoops Huckaby uses as framing devices create a parallel between her artistic labor, historical notions of handicraft as a potentially pleasurable subsistence pursuit and, most appropriately, an exploration of African Americans’ ties to the American agricultural landscape. Hers is an expansive treatment of a collective experience: the ghosts of enslavement, the land as a source of nourishment, the purported abandonment of the rural for urban environments, and a history of denied opportunities. Treating the agricultural American landscape symbolically is exceedingly fitting when addressing collective African American identity. Huckaby’s aesthetic choices reject the supposed urbanization of African Americans as a means of obfuscating their shared trauma in America and replace it with a bittersweet, bucolic vision. The work is accordingly installed as though her images are portholes representing multiple perspectives coalescing into one.

Letitia Huckaby’s work resides in the permanent collections of the Library of Congress, the Art Museum of Southeast Texas, and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, among others. Her notable exhibitions include MAP2020: The Further We Roll, The More We Gain at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art and State of the Art 2020 at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Ben Hickey | Curator of Exhibitions

 

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