Sugar:: L.Kasimu Harris

For generations, sugarcane has stood tall open fields across Louisiana, and beyond. From “Can’t to Can’t” is a photographic based installation that examines both the beauty of sugarcane contrasted against the horror, caused by the harvesting of the crop. It towered over enslaved people from Africa. Yet, for generations, whites have utilized tools and tactics to quell any attempts for equity for Blacks:  the 1811 German Coast uprising, The Thibodaux Massacre in 1887,  or in 1972 when two black cane workers sued the United States Department of Agriculture for back wages. Either through violence or verbiage, those uprisings were stuck down. 

I am both enamored and repulsed by sugarcane. In Louisiana, it can rise above 12 feet, with its fibrous stalks in precise rows, it is tempting to walk through–during the day. And those same attributes must have made it disorienting at night. 

The four panels of sugarcane, taken at various focal lengths immerse the viewer in the crop, perhaps conjuring dichotomous feelings. Regardless, it’s a challenge to look and feel deeply. The cane cutting knives are an homage to the brave people who dare to fight back, and worked from “can’t see to can’t see.” That last element in the installation is a triptych within the warehouse of the sugar refinery.  There, Armstrong Manual operated a slinger that piles massive mounds of raw sugar, where it’s stored for a year. 

L. Kasimu Harris is a New Orleans-based artist whose practice deposits a number of different strategic and conceptual devices in order to push narratives. He strives to tell stories of underrepresented communities in New Orleans and beyond. Harris has shown in numerous group exhibitions across the US and two international exhibitions and has had seven solo photography exhibitions.

Harris was the photo essayist for the Prospect. 5 Catalogue, Yesterday we said tomorrow. Last year, he was among 60 artists selected nationwide for State of the Art 2020 at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and also had a solo exhibition, Vanishing Black Bars & Lounges: Photographs by L. Kasimu Harris at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center in Pittsburgh. His writing and photographs were featured in ” A Shot Before Last Call: Capturing New Orleans’s Vanishing Black Bars” which was published in The New York Times.

In 2018, his War on the Benighted series was a part of Changing Course: Reflections on New Orleans Histories, a group exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Harris earned a BBA in Entrepreneurship from Middle Tennessee State University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Mississippi. He is on the Board of Trustees at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and is a member of the Antenna Gallery Collective.

Harris was a 2018 Artist-in-Residence at the Center for Photography at Woodstock and is a 2020 Joan Mitchell Center Artist-in-Residence.