Header photo from Daesha Devón Harris’s Instagram
October is a month of many celebrations and remembrances. That’s fortunate for me, because when I made the commitment to participate in my first ever #Blogtober, the next immediate thought I had was, “What am I going to write about for thirty-one days in a row?” A quick search returned October’s day-long, week-long, and month-long celebrations, some of which I have used as inspiration for this month’s posts.
Here in the US, one of October’s celebrations is Black History month. In case you don’t know me in real life, or haven’t seen my picture, I am not a person of color. I am in no way able to speak to the lived experiences of Black Americans. What I am able to do is share the work of those who do have first-hand experience, and who are commenting on the past, the present, and the future through their art.
Today, the artist I want to share with you is Daesha Devón Harris. Harris, who hails from Saratoga Springs, NY, had one of her collections, “Just Beyond the River,” highlighted on the Smithsonian Magazine’s website in April of this year, and on the magazine’s Instagram in May (I follow the Smithsonian Magazine on Instagram, which is how I became aware of Harris’s phenomenal work). Fifteen pieces of the collection were shared on Instagram, although the entire collection, which can be accessed on Harris’s website, appears to have a total of thirty pieces.
To make her pieces for this collection, Harris used photographs collected from various sources. She made transparencies of the photographs, then curated distinct backgrounds in water, using multiple found objects. Laying the photo transparencies on the water, Harris took photographs–the background objects showing through the photo transparencies, becoming one layered image. Last, the new photos were put into shadow boxes, along with other found items, behind glass that had been etched with the words of figures who were active during the Harlem Renaissance period.
The result is simply elegant. And, like other great art, the subject matter and the execution are thought-provoking. Harris, who is a 2019 New York State Council of the Arts/New York Foundation for the Arts fellow in photography, considers herself a youth advocate, a social activist, and a cultural history preservationist, traits of all of which are apparent in her work.
Themes of how Black Americans engage with the land and the water are explored repeatedly in both this collection and Harris’ other works. The idea that water is dually a barrier and a path to both spiritual and physical freedom is but one of the salient points in these pieces. One would be remiss to not make the connection between Harris’s work and the embedded colonialism and racism that pervades America’s institutions to this day.
The writer Edwidge Danticat once commented that artists are witnesses. Harris’s work is powerful evidence in support of Danticat’s claim.
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