Just Beyond the River
Daesha Devón Harris is a Saratoga Springs, NY native, artist and photographer who plays an active role in her community as a youth advocate, social activist and cultural history preservationist. The gentrification of her hometown and it’s effect on the local Black community has played a major role in both her advocacy and artwork. Harris’s most recent awards include fellowships at En Foco, Inc, MDOCS Storyteller’s Institute, the Center for Photography at Woodstock and Blue Sky Gallery.
My work explores the concept of “home” as it relates to the African American experience, particularly in achieving the elusive American Dream and the realization of full, undefiled citizenship. Though people of color continue to be systematically excluded from national narratives of success and citizenship, there has been agency, uplift and triumph among African American communities. By reclaiming our intimate memories and cultural histories, I make it a point to illustrate that the Black community is not defined by these barriers, but rather show the strength, faith and hope of a people.
Growing up my greatest joy was exploring both the urban and pastoral landscape of my immediate and extended home. These outings allowed me to not only experience familial traditions connected to the landscape but also to learn personal and cultural history. The stories that my family told entranced me and compelled me to seek out the missing stories- those untold and those forgotten. My work combines elements from shared cultural narratives of the African Diaspora with family lore, personal moments from my childhood and memories of home.
The featured series, Just Beyond the River, weaves together historical imagery, text, found objects and natural elements in the landscape and is inspired by Negro Folklore, Slave Narratives and Harlem Renaissance literature, particularly stories that involve the crossing of water. This work highlights America’s enduring legacies of colonialism and systemic racism, while reiterating the central narrative that emerges from the referenced memoirs – the ongoing struggle for Freedom.
In this series I have incorporated a personal collection of unidentified, discarded portraits that I have accumulated over the years. The people in the photos whose names are unknown have become folk heroes to me as I imagine their faces in the referenced stories. My process includes submerging a specific portrait in a body of water amongst an arranged aquatic still-life, which I then photograph. The resulting image is naturally layered with various visual elements from the past and the present. In all of the referenced stories water has to be crossed on the journey to Freedom. By combining relics and powerful words with these found images of unidentified ancestors drifting through aquatic landscapes, this work seeks to acknowledge the courage and sacrifice of our ancestors, reclaim their presence and link them to a sense of place, especially those who have been excluded and displaced.
all images © Daesha Devón Harris