Saturday, 02/08/2020 through Sunday, 06/14/2020
Curator: Katie Fuller
Race and Revolution: Home/Land, is the fourth art exhibition in a series that confronts historical patterns of systemic racism in the United States.
Home/Land looks at the influence of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 on Lewis Latimer’s family, focusing on the tactics used to detain, deport, and re-enslave “runaways” with current practices used by Immigration Customs Enforcement to control the influx of immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. The exhibition pairs true stories of those who escaped or attempted to escape slavery in the years surrounding the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 with current experiences of families attempting to migrate to the United States with the hope of finding a home in the land of the free.
Selected artists were given access to primary source documents from the past to create works that show a connection between then and now. Basing their art pieces on families’ migration journeys and their encounters with ICE brings the pain of the past into the present. Excerpts from historical documents: runaway slave ads, letters, journal entries, will be posted on the wall next to the art piece. Displayed together, the documents and the artworks ask viewers what, if anything, has changed regarding how this country treats humans labeled as “illegal”.
About the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850
George Latimer, father of Lewis, escaped from his enslavers in Virginia and settled in Massachusetts. Only two years after his son was born, the United States passed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 as part of the Missouri Compromise, making it one’s civic duty to report any man, woman, or child suspected of escaping slavery in the South and settling in the North. Up until the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Massachusetts had been an abolitionists’ enclave. After the Fugitive Slave Act passed any person who escaped became vulnerable to bounty hunters and vigilant neighbors. Rewards often inspired the capture of free black men, women, and children, who might bare a resemblance to an enslaved person who had escaped. In 1857 Chief Justice Robert Taney decided in Scott V. Sanfordthat enslaved people could not sue for their freedom and that Congress did not have the power to keep slavery out of the Western Territories. This decision, considered one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in United States history, made slave catching a free for all.
Though no one knows exactly what happened to George Latimer, the lack of regulation regarding “fugitive” slaves may have made him especially fearful for the safety of his family. What would his status as a former slave mean to ruthless slave catchers? What we do know is that George disappeared, leaving behind his wife and children.
This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.