If a picture is worth a thousand words, the ability to use praxis is worth a million. I embark on a deeply personal and socially significant journey to explore the power of visual storytelling and the preservation of cultural memory. My creative practice and research are rooted in a familial connection as I delve into the intertwined narratives of my ancestors—their lives marked by adversity, resilience, and the complex interplay of personal challenges and societal structures.
A single photograph of my uncle and mother sitting across each other, vividly illustrating the one-drop rule in practice, ignited my commitment to preserving collective memory. This image became a symbol of the narratives we risk losing as our civil rights heroes, many of which are unsung and unrecognized, their stories silenced by contemporary systems of terrorism and injustice as they depart, taking their memories and legacies with them. The potential loss of this photograph mirrors the broader threat to historical records and knowledge faced today, manifested in book banning, assaults on women's rights, and the erosion of voting rights—particularly in the Southern states, where the echoes of disenfranchisement persist. My research question revolves around how can a digital repository of photographs and digital media that chronicles African diasporic family history in the Deep South be used to reconceptualize, educate, and decolonize knowledge by challenging ideas about race, representation, and critical practice, informed by bell hooks' concept of the Keeper of the Walls and Paul Gilroy's framework of the Black Atlantic?
My creative practice and research are driven by a profound sense of urgency, recognizing that Southern states have a shared history of exclusion, which continues due to a climate of fear and oppression. In this environment, Black and Brown communities in the rural deep south areas of the United States have often resisted quietly, using various forms of communication such as visual, oral, and textual traditions, including photographs, letters, diaries, school memorabilia, funeral programs, recipes, and other objects that hold personal and historical significance. These acts of resistance, previously invisible to many, have the power to uncover hidden stories and alternative narratives. I aim to make the invisible visible by entering communities where I am also a native. I use Visual Anthropological and Grounded Theory methods to construct a comprehensive visual database, a repository to bring these stories into contemporary discourse.
By employing visual anthropology and grounded theory methods, I explore how such a repository can catalyze the reshaping of knowledge, education, and decolonization efforts. This endeavor challenges the prevailing notions of race, representation, and critical practice. I aim to unveil the repository's capacity to reshape the narrative landscape of African diasporic experiences.
Through the lens of visual anthropology, I comprehensively analyze the repository's content, focusing on the visual narratives encapsulated within the photographs and digital media. My methodological approach encompasses participant observation, interviews, and content analysis. This multidimensional approach enables me to decode the intricate stories and lived experiences embedded in these visual artifacts. In addition, grounded theory methods guide my investigation, allowing me to derive theoretical insights from the data organically.
My research contributes to ongoing dialogs about the potent role of visual storytelling in challenging established narratives and nurturing critical consciousness. Building on hooks' concept of the "Keeper of the Walls," I explore how the individuals and communities involved in creating and curating the repository function as guardians of historical and cultural memory. They actively counter the erasure of African diasporic histories, ensuring these narratives are passed down to future generations. Furthermore, I draw from Gilroy's framework of the "Black Atlantic" to uncover how the repository facilitates transnational connections, emphasizing shared experiences and cultural exchanges among African diasporic communities on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
My future research will interrogate how digital repositories function as effective platforms for community engagement, education, and empowerment. It allows people to take control of their stories, challenge harmful stereotypes, and amplify silenced voices. By focusing on the experiences and stories of African diasporic families in the rural Deep South, this study will highlight the repository's potential to disrupt prevailing paradigms, challenge hegemonic knowledge structures, and contribute to a more inclusive and equitable understanding of history and identity.
The research significance focuses on the role of digital repositories in fostering community engagement, education, and empowerment aimed at driving social change, decolonization, and equitable knowledge production. It emphasizes the importance of prioritizing marginalized voices in shaping historical narratives and stresses the potential for transformative impact by reimagining the histories of African diasporic families in this region. Through this journey, I aspire to honor my ancestors' legacies while contributing to the broader struggle for social justice and historic preservation.