My artistic practice is rooted in “Truth, By Any Means Necessary;” a visual beacon light that deploys several approaches to arrive at verities. It is a constant striving to amplify fundamental inequities and injustices of Black people, as well as illuminating the Black pool of genius from the same disenfranchised community.
The crux of my approach as a visual communicator was developed in journalism, fact-driven, and the quest for truth remains paramount to all facets of my storytelling. However, art has allowed me the freedom to explore, examine, and recreate factual events or issues that are not permissible in the news.
That strategy is best reflected in my constructed realities, where I examine social justice issues in the African-American community. They are a means for visual and psychological studies to examine racial disparities and the imbalance that pervades class, education, and neighborhoods.
From Reconstruction to now, a social climate persists, where the ascension of blacks into the upper rungs of leadership is as common as the assassination of blacks on the street, guised as law enforcement. I strive to uncover the warring ideals of progress and sameness using “man against man”, and “man against self” and “man against society.”
And in New Orleans, and beyond, with the foreboding presence of gentrification, there’s also “man against culture.” The Black Bar in New Orleans is the epicenter of black culture in New Orleans, which is the driving force of New Orleans culture. Black bars in lounges are the homes to social aid & pleasure clubs, Black Masking Indians, and the community. Historically it was and remains a respite from the rest of the world and the unfair treatment folk faced in areas outside of their neighborhoods. There are records of black gathering spaces in New Orleans that date back to the late 1800s.. This series is titled “Vanishing Black Bars & Lounges” (2018-present.)
These bars became a safe space, where patrons could buy affordable drinks, eat, listen to music and fraternize. If they were in the Mississippi Delta, we’d call it a Jook Joint and in South Africa, it’s a shebeen, regardless of what it’s called and where it is, their importance to the culture and community are too often overlooked.
I am telling the story of now. Yet, in some images, I can incorporate the past, present, and future concurrently or two at a time. In some of these black bars, the furnishings have remained unchanged for decades, but will also be outfitted with a large flat screen tv. In other instances, it’s the clientele that denotes the passage of time. But most importantly, my work about making physical documents, for generations to come, that say we were here.
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.