Over the last few years, Hyperallergic has reported on the continuing quest of Tamara Lanier to retrieve daguerreotypes of her ancestors Renty and Delia Taylor. In March 2019, Lanier filed a lawsuit in Massachusetts to obtain rights to photographs in the collection of Harvard University’s Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology, which were commissioned by Louis Agassiz as part of a eugenics campaign. The images depict her ancestors, Renty Taylor and his daughter Delia, and are some of the oldest existing photographs of enslaved people.
“For years, Papa Renty’s slave owners profited from his suffering,” Lanier said in a statement at the time. “It’s time for Harvard to stop doing the same thing to our family.”
Since emerging into the public spotlight, there’s been a range of reactions from various communities watching this case. Some scholars have sided with the university over the family, while others, including those published here, support the family’s pursuit of justice through the return of the images. The images themselves have been used by artists, museums, and organizations since their rediscovery in the 1970s. However, many of those same individuals and institutions have remained silent at the recent calls by Lanier and her family for their property rights.
In March of this year, a Massachusetts Superior Court judge ruled in Harvard’s favor and dismissed the lawsuit. But Lanier appealed, and arguments will be heard at the Massachusetts Supreme Court on Monday, November 1.
This issue, we asked Hyperallergic staff reporter Valentina Di Liscia to summarize the saga in a useful primer on the topic. We also invited longtime Hyperallergic contributor CM Campbell to prepare a graphic essay about Tamara Lanier’s case and the questions around the “legality” of Harvard’s case for retaining the photographs. Thank you to both Valentina and CM for their work on this issue.
The following 12 scholarly endorsements of Ariella Aïsha Azoulay’s amicus brief, which was released in the Boston Review, are being published in this edition: Aliyyah I. Abdur-Rahman, Kimberly Juanita Brown, Sandrine Colard, Carles Guerra, Marianne Hirsch, Eunsong Kim, Jane’a Johnson-Farnham, Fred Moten, Stephen Sheehi, Brian Wallis, Laura Wexler, and Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa.
To illustrate the endorsements and other posts, we’ve decided to refrain from posting the photographs in question, which have been repeatedly used to dehumanize the enslaved individuals depicted. We chose instead to reproduce public domain and creative commons images of photo studios, old cameras, and daguerrotype frames to highlight the long history of photography and its complicated potential to depict — or skew — history.
A special thank you to Ariella Aïsha Azoulay for helping to facilitate contacts with all the scholars involved, and another thank you to Lakshmi Amin, Hyperallergic’s editorial coordinator, for shepherding the whole issue to screen.
We hope you will take the time to read.
Artist Minouk Lim wants to offer a very different perspective on how one might deal with a grim history whose effects continue to be felt in the present.
This week: Should Washington have a national memorial for gun violence? Have cats used us to take over the world? What is Cluttercore? And more.
Organizers, artists, and land practitioners are holding public events at Iglesias Garden in a hub space supported by the Climate Justice Initiative, a project of Mural Arts Philadelphia.
The artist’s style blends aesthetic and cultural elements from Ghana, London, and New York’s graffiti scenes.
Workers told Hyperallergic that they were tired of meager pay and a lack of job security.
Jo Sandman / TRACES opens with a reception for the artist on June 3 at Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center in Asheville, North Carolina.
Authorities say Jean-Luc Martinez helped facilitate the Louvre’s purchase of objects illegally pillaged during the Arab Spring.
The suspects attempted to take a Basquiat artwork valued at $45,000 from Taglialatella Galleries but instead made off with a half-empty bottle of whiskey.
Funding MFAs and all full-time graduate degrees, the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans supports immigrants and the children of immigrants in the US.
From music and architecture to comedy and horror, these films showcase Ukrainian culture and its long-held ethos of resistance.
The artists showcased in Archival Intimacies examine the colonial trauma’s impact on Asian Americans and search for ways to overcome it.
Eiffel inadvertently paints its protagonist not as a great man worthy of scrutiny or praise, but as the Elon Musk of his day.