Morris was inspired to create the works after reading an early draft of
That practice, now referred to as re-enslavement, continued in some Southern states until the late 1940s.
Blackmon, who worked as a
Envisioning past atrocities
Morris, who, like Blackmon, is white, was compelled to make this harrowing but long forgotten chapter in history strikingly visual, and not just through paint and canvas but through physical pieces of history.
"One of the most inspiring experiences I've had is seeing people go through and, unlike a lot of art showings, you'll see people almost their noses touching the pieces to read and to see and to feel this era," Morris told a crowd of gallery visitors during his stop in
When a high-ranking official of
"She stood up and said, 'My grandfather, and my two great-uncles -- three brothers -- were sold back into slavery to the
"It was hard for me to say anything after that. It's moving, still, to think about -- that personal history. This is oral history, this isn't ancient history. These are people whose lives are impacted who come out and tell the story.
"It is one of the greatest moments of my life to be able to stand in the
Many of Morris' works incorporate found objects and large images for which he foraged in junkyards, flea markets and historical societies throughout the South. His implements include scraps of tin culled from sharecroppers' shacks, ropes, chains and bolts of burlap from the era.
In a search in and around the
Often, the backdrop for these objects are clips of paper -- Confederate dollars, newspaper announcements of available "negro wenches," reports of runaway slaves. In "Long March," one of many mixed-media works, Morris merges these print relics with the image of well-dressed civil rights activists in the mid-20th century, heads held high. In another, "Coal Miners," such paper snippets surround a central image of a pair of re-enslaved men with gaunt, frightened faces. His piece "Abolishing Slavery" includes a carefully mounted collection of rusted jailers' keys, locks and other objects that would have been lost to history.
A personal connection
"There is a whole generation or two that went into the mines in
In addition to his artifact-based works, Morris depicts individuals who were caught up in the nightmare of re-enslavement, as well. While creating a portrait from a re-digitized photograph, he realized the re-enslaved man in the photo had a wound in his solar plexus that would never heal.
"It was one of the eeriest experiences of creating this work of art, because as I was painting this man's portrait, I felt him coming alive," said Morris, who noted that countless re-enslaved people died once captured and put to work. "It is a very special piece, because we don't know who he is, but he's here now."
In an adjacent portrait, with a man standing against a stark red background, Morris said,"I tried to capture this bewilderment, this sense of, 'I was just in my mother's house last week, and now I am in this strange place, and I have no idea what's about to happen to me.' "
Between the two portraits, is a large burlap-based piece, "The Cycle of Slavery," with a rusted old oil drum surrounded by old iron pins that would have been used in ships that sailed the
"It is meant to capture the sense that whether it's slavery or re-enslavement or human rights or the sex trade that has now become revealed in many articles around the country, there will always be people who will try to use human bondage for their own profit," Morris said. "This is a reminder that we always have to be aware of that."
WANT TO GO?
WHAT: "Slavery By Another Name: Paintings and Assemblages by
MORE INFORMATION: To see the documentary film "Slavery by Another Name," which premiered in 2012 at the
another-name/ The site also includes an interview with author
(c)2014 Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Ala.)
Visit the Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Ala.) at www.montgomeryadvertiser.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services