Letitia Huckaby has photographed figures and silhouettes throughout her career. In her Artpace exhibition And Thy Neighb(our), the artist expands this practice with new media and deepened interests as she here presents her subjects in the vein of Old Master paintings. This centuries-old style typically pictured Western European male subjects in paintings done by the hand of European male artists, a narrow view that Huckaby updates and democratizes. As suggested by the exhibition’s title, derived from a Biblical passage (Luke 10:27), And Thy Neighb(our) conjures and queries essential concepts for our globalist twenty-first century, including community, the collective, home, and identity.
All of the fifteen subjects portrayed by Huckaby identify as refugees or immigrants from countries with majority Black populations. Much of current immigration news centers on persons crossing the U.S./Mexico border. However, in photographing Black subjects, Huckaby presents those whose experiences may not be as visible but are nevertheless shortchanged and abused at every step of the immigration process. These subjects include social workers, students, a model, a seamstress, and business professionals—in essence, individuals who make valuable contributions to society wherever they reside.
Huckaby’s subjects were photographed against vintage, patterned bedsheets. Some of these backgrounds are vibrant and eye-catching, while others are simple and understated. In some of the works, the subjects selected the sheet patterns they most identified with; in others, Huckaby made the background selection herself, inspired by aspects of the subject’s story or led purely by aesthetic considerations. The resulting images were then printed onto cotton fabric, which itself possesses a loaded relationship to the histories of colonialism and slavery in North America.
Continuing her practice of presenting images within wooden embroidery hoops, Huckaby has increased the size of the hoops and images of figures to slightly larger than life. At the bottom of each, in thread color matching the silhouettes, Huckaby includes subtle text indicating the ethnicity or nationality of the subject. Each of the fifteen appears proud and regal, and the glow emanating from behind the figures portrays them as awe-inspiring and divine. This sensitive approach to depicting fifteen individuals from around the world underscores a reverence for their personal identity, experiences, and, indeed, their spirit.
Photo Credit: Beth Devillier
3D Tour Capture: Chris Mills