At the Hands of Persons Unknown investigates how trees have been silent witnesses to the lynchings of women in the American South. In most cases women were lynched along with their husbands, sons, or brothers even though they didn’t play a role in a crime but because they were the man’s wife, girlfriend or mother, and most importantly, they were present when the man was seized[1].

Blacks were lynched throughout the U.S. in record numbers, particularly after the beginning of Reconstruction, but while the majority of the victims were men, there are least 159 recorded cases of women of which I have only found one case to be of a mixed-race marriage/lynching[2] - Segrave lists 115 cases in her book of which 79% were black, 17% white and 4% Hispanic, uncertain, or “half-breed” (18).

According to the Tuskegee Institute, 1,297 lynchings of whites and 3,446 lynchings of blacks were recorded between 1882 and 1968, even though members of other ethnic groups like Mexicans or Chinese were lynched, too.[3]

When moving to Chapel Hill in 2013, I became aware of this issue and was wondering about the stories of these women. Many of the women were probably my age or slightly younger, some were pregnant when they were lynched, others had children. Having an African-American husband and a child, we would have had difficulties 50 years ago (the Loving vs Virginia rule in 1967 ended a ban on mixed-race marriage in the U.S.), which motivated me to work on this topic. Whereas some artists like Ken Gonzalez-Day or Hank Willis Thomas have created art on lynchings of men, nobody I am aware of has dealt with lynchings of women. 

Through long exposures and movement of the camera, the trees in this series are rendered abstract almost ghostlike. Notwithstanding, these horrific events can never be truly known and never fully be understood.

The large-scale prints (40” x 40”) are available in an edition of 5 plus 1 artist proof and are printed as archival pigment prints on Canson Arches Vellum paper.

This project also includes a video and an installation.

  

[1] Segrave, Kerry (2010) Lynchings of Women in the United States. The Recorded Cases, 1851-1946. McFarland & Company, Jefferson, NC and London: page 11.

[2] Mrs. Patrick Morris (black) and her husband, Patrick Morris (white), were lynched in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana on January 12, 1896. Their house-boat was set on fire by a mob and they were being shot at. One account went that there was a growing sentiment against mixed-race couples, another one that the house-boat they were living on was a nuisance (Kerry: 90-91).

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynching#cite_note-22 ; numbers vary depending on the source

untitled 1untitled 2untitled 3untitled 4untitled 5untitled 6untitled 7untitled 8 untitled 9untitled 10untitled 12untitled 11 untitled 13untitled 15untitled 16untitled 17untitled 18Maquette of Moving LampAt the Hands of Persons Unknown (video)Installation Shot Images and VideoInstallation Shot Images and Video