Sasha Huber redresses the haunting daguerreotypes of enslaved people in an act of healing colonial and historical traumas

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Sasha Huber, Tailoring Freedom – Renty and Delia, 2021. Metal staples on photograph on wood, 97 x 69 cm. Courtesy the artist and Tamara Lanier. Original images courtesy the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University (Renty, 35-5-10/53037; Delia, 35-5-10/53040). © Sasha Huber.

A decade of Huber’s work is presented at Autograph, London, in an exhibition that asks ‘who and what do we memorialise, and how?’

In 2007, the Swiss historian and activist Hans Fässler launched the Demounting Louis Agassiz campaign. Agassiz (1807-1873) was a Swiss scientist. His achievements in biology have gone down in history; Agassizhorn, one of the highest summits in the Swiss Alps, is named after him. For 15 years, Fässler has been campaigning for Agassiz’s name to be removed from the mountain. For what is lesser known about the scientist are his profound efforts to further the racist cause, and his subjugation and exploitation of Black people, in life and legacy.

In March 1850, Agassiz commissioned Joseph T Zealy to photograph the enslaved people working on the Edgehill Plantation in South Carolina at the time. His goal, to further the theory of polygenesis – that different races were descended from different origins, and therefore inferior. These daguerreotypes are thought to be the first known images of enslaved people. They include images of Renty and his daughter Delia Taylor, Jack and Drana, Fassena and Jem. Fässler hopes to rename the peak Rentyhorn, to honour his legacy instead.

Sasha Huber, Tailoring Freedom – Jem, 2022. Metal staples on photograph on wood, 49 x 69 cm. Courtesy the artist. Commissioned by The Power Plant, Toronto; Autograph, London; Turku Art Museum, Finland; and Kunstinstituut Melly, Rotterdam, 2022. Original mage courtesy the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, 5-10/53046. © Sasha Huber.

Swiss-Haitian artist Sasha Huber joined the Demounting Louis Agassiz campaign in 2007 too. For the last decade, she has been creating work about historical trauma and racism, and how that has inadvertently influenced colonialism. In her project Tailoring Freedom, Huber takes the daguerrotypes and ‘clothes’ the figures using her signature staple-gun method. As she explains:

“I printed the photographs of Renty and Delia onto wood, mounting them as a diptych for them to stay together. It was the first time that I married stapling with photography as usually I create the entire image from staples. I came to think yet again, how fine clothing can be a symbol for freedom, especially because it was something enslaved people could never have. When I started to research what kind of clothing I could ‘tailor’ for them, I started to look at images of the abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, both of whom were able to self-emancipate in their lifetime. Douglass’ status as the most photographed person in the USA during the 19th century was also an important aspect.”

Tailoring Freedom, shown alongside Huber’s other recent work including a 3D animation on cosmic colonisation, is presented at Autograph, London from 11 November 2022 to 25 March 2023. Titled YOU NAME IT, and co-curated by Bindi Vora, Renée Mussai and Mark Sealy, the exhibition asks “what actions it might take to repair the inherited traumas of history”.

You can read a special In Conversation between Huber and co-curator Bindi Vora in the upcoming Portrait issue of the British Journal of Photography, launching this December. Huber discusses the motivation behind her practice, the question of agency, and the sensitivity in working with the archive and images of such potent meaning historically and now.

Sasha Huber, Tailoring Freedom – Fassena, 2022. Metal staples on photograph on wood, 49 x 69 cm. Courtesy the artist. Commissioned by The Power Plant, Toronto; Autograph, London; Turku Art Museum, Finland; and Kunstinstituut Melly, Rotterdam, 2022. Original image courtesy the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and. Ethnology, Harvard University, 35-5- 10/53048. © Sasha Huber.

YOU NAME IT by Sasha Huber is on show at Autograph, London from 11 November 2022 to 25 March 2023. The exhibition is co-curated by Bindi Vora, Renee Mussai and Mark Sealy.

Read more about Sasha Huber’s work in the upcoming Portrait issue, delivered to your door this December with a British Journal of Photography Subscription.

Izabela Radwanska Zhang

Starting out as an intern back in 2016, Izabela Radwanska Zhang is now the Editorial Director of British Journal of Photography in print and online. Her words have appeared in Disegno and Press Association. Prior to this, she completed a MA in Magazine Journalism at City University, London, and most recently, a Postgrad Certificate in Graphic Design at London College of Communication.