Q&A: Letitia Huckaby
By Hamidah Glasgow | May 30, 2019
Letitia Huckaby | After studying and gaining degrees in both journalism and photography, some of my first works were naturally photojournalistic. A voyeur documenting the lives of others, but with the loss of my father, I became interested in doing more personal work. For the first time, I turned the camera on myself and my family. The results have been an exploration of my family history and my African American heritage. Also, the change in perspective has caused me to shift from the life of a photojournalist to a more impassioned contemporary artist interested in personal expression, history, and culture.
Since obtaining my Master’s degree from the University of North Texas in 2010, I have been blessed to exhibit as an emerging artist at the Dallas Contemporary, the Galveston Arts Center, Renaissance Fine Art in Harlem curated by Deborah Willis, PhD, the McKenna Museum in New Orleans, the Camden Palace Hotel in Cork City, Ireland, the Texas Biennial at Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum and the Anzenberger Gallery in Vienna, Austria. The work is included in several prestigious collections; the Library of Congress, the Art Museum of Southeast Texas, the Brandywine Workshop in Philadelphia, and the Samella Lewis Contemporary Art Collection at Scripps College in Claremont, California. Along with my exhibition history, I have participated in the Brandywine residency and a residency in Gee’s Bend Alabama with the Gee’s Bend quilters. I am represented by the Liliana Bloch Gallery in Dallas, Texas, and the Anzenberger Gallery in Vienna, Austria.
Letitia: The basic premise behind my work is faith, family, and legacy. It is a time capsule for the African-American experience. I am always looking at how the past relates to the present, and whether or not things have changed or remain the same. There is always a history built into the pieces, whether through process or actual materials. I often use heirloom fabrics, and I think that is why so many people can relate to my work.
I am a photographer at heart; each piece starts with an image and progresses from there. The images are printed on cotton fabric, hand-stitched together into traditional African-American quilting patterns and finished as quilts, dresses, sacks or framed quilt tops. I love pushing the boundaries of photography, by using a traditional practice in an non-traditional way and hopefully creating a new visual language.
Hamidah:: How does 40 Acres…Gumbo Ya Ya fit into that theme?
Letitia: “40 Acers…Gumbo Ya Ya” is an exploration of black land wealth. 40 Acres…Gumbo Ya Ya, is a poetic examination of a promise made by Union General William Sherman for agrarian reform to enslaved African American farmers. Gumbo Ya Ya means, “everybody talks at once.” Referencing broken agreements (just words) and the continual discussion (everybody talking at once) about the Blues originating past. Images taken in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas depict a rural southern landscape, the reality and longings of a neglected culture steeped in disappointment. Framed in vintage embroidery hoops, the landscape embodies the hopes and dreams of one generation to the next. I chose embroidery hoops to frame the images because, for me, it is symbolic of something precious a woman creates for her home. Something she hopes will be passed down thru the generations. I find that highly ironic when that which is being framed is highly political and the results of generations of oppression.
Hamidah: What do you make of the current political candidates talking about reparations? If reparations come to pass, they won’t make up for the generations of lost wealth, political, and social harm. I do think that without a Truth and Reconciliation occurrence, this country can’t overcome it’s inherent racist present.
Letitia: Actually, I’m torn on that topic. Part of me is flattered that they would even want to “make things right,” but the other part of me feels that they are just playing on my feelings as a person of color to acquire my vote. Not to be funny, but it sounds like a lot of Gumbo Ya Ya to me.
Hamidah: I hope they are serious. Things have to be made right for the past and the future.
Hamidah: Your work is almost always if not always one of a kind, handcrafted, original pieces. Tell me about that choice?
Letitia: I know it seems strange for a person who considers herself to be a photographer to work on individual pieces, but for me, it’s natural. Coming from a documentary background, I still create by putting together a series or body of work, and my goal is to create images that stand on their own as well as with the group. The difference is that now I enjoy layering in other information or history by using vintage and/or heirloom fabrics. That dictates that each piece be unique.
Hamidah: I don’t find it strange at all; in fact, I find it delightful. There is something about unique pieces that make them precious. You can’t just tear it up and print a new one. How did this series come about? What sparked your creative instinct to work this way with these images?
Letitia: 40 Acres…Gumbo Ya Ya, came about as an exploration of the land my ancestors walked, owned and in some cases currently reside on. My husband Sedrick and I purchased a property on some acreage four years ago, and it got me to thinking about the importance of leaving an inheritance for our children. Not just money, but land wealth. And that begs the question, how are African-Americans as a whole doing in that regard? Are we passing land to the next generation, and what does that land look like?
Hamidah: Is there one image in this series that speaks to you louder than others in the series?
Letitia:: The image that speaks the most to me is entitled “Dixon Correctional Institute,” it was taken on the grounds of a prison in Louisiana. The prison runs a farm and pecan orchard that is maintained by the inmates. Prisons have become big business, and if you drive by when the prisoners are working the land, it looks very much like modern-day slavery. The image depicts a herd of cattle with black bodies and white faces, all lined up in a row. It poetically and powerfully speaks to me about systematic racism in this country.
Hamidah: What is next on the horizon for you?
Letitia: I am excited to have been selected for a Tallgrass Artist Residency this summer in Kansas. While there, I intend to continue my exploration of the African-American connection to land in this country. Particularly focused on the Exodusters. African-Americans who migrated from the deep south after the Civil War to Kansas and Oklahoma for the opportunity to own land.
Hamidah: Thank you for you time and work.
Letitia: Thank you.