On Feb 19, 1943, President Roosevelt’s signed executive order 9066 in a misguided attempt to keep our country safe. As a result, approximately 120,000 men, women, and children of Japanese ancestry were deported and incarcerated into camps spread throughout the West Coast; California, Colorado, Arizona, Wyoming, Idaho, and Utah. Seventy-five years later we are facing another executive order signed by President Trump in an attempt to keep our country safe.
Ten Concentration Camps is a photography project that examines executive order 9066 and its impact on the Japanese- American citizen imprisoned during this time, the impact on the land, and the events of today.
This project is timely and suitable for our current political climate. This installation will be exhibited in a variety of locations including; museums and galleries sponsored by Universities and Colleges in order to reach a range of viewers.
By the end of this month I will have visited and document all ten of the concentration camp locations. This project is schedule to open at the Triton Museum Feb 7, 2020.
Utah Concentration Camp Location
Color photograph by Renee Billingslea, 2018 combined with WRA photograph 1943.
Color photograph by Renee Billingslea, 2018 combined with WRA photograph, 1943.
Jerome, Arkansas Concentration Camp Location
Color Photograph by Renee Billingslea 2018 combined with WRA propaganda photo, 1943.
Manzanar California, Concentration Camp location
Color photograph by Renee Billingslea, 2018 insert photo WRA photograph by Dorthea Lange 1943
Minidoka, Idaho Concentration camp locations
America's Whispered Truth's
America's Whispered Truth's
“Renee Billingslea and Willie Little critique portions of America’s social dilemmas, and confront the murky history of racial tensions in this country. Diverse media and tactics explore the corporeal human tragedies of the past, and subvert icons of degradation, thus reclaiming and representing them as symbols of beauty, strength, and resilience. The works reveal painful truths in our nation’s past, and challenge viewers to examine the current predicament of race in America.”
Jeffersons House: The Family of Monticello
I visited Monticello after reading Annette Gordon-Reed’s The Hemingses of Monticello. Just after getting out of my car, before I could see the iconic classical building we associate with Thomas Jefferson, I noticed a small protected section of woods-- the recently identified cemetery of the enslaved people who lived and died at Monticello. A large, plain rock caught my attention. I realized it was placed by one of the enslaved people there to mark a grave. The story of the Hemings’ lives, long obscured, that Ms. Gordon-Reed’s research revealed became visually and palpably real, and a new artistic path opened for me.
I took the photographs of Monticello in the fall 2016. I added historical photographs with hand-stitching to bring a richer context and understanding of Monticello and the full family and community of people who lived, worked and died there.
Jefferson’s House, Monticello, Virginia, 2017
Digital photograph of Thomas Jeffersons House. Insert of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson’s great-great-granddaughter Emma Jane Bird-Young (center) her husband and seven of their ten children.
Detail of Jefferson House, 2017
Jefferson's Seven Seeds, 2017
Jefferson’s vegetable garden as seen from Mulberry Row.
According to Historian Annette Reed-Gordon, Sally Hemings gave birth to seven children, fathered by Thomas Jefferson. No information on the seventh child has been located.
Detail of Jefferson's Seven Seeds, 2017
Insert: seven sprouted bean seed.
Slave Burial Grounds, Monticello, Virginia, 2017
In 2001, a slave burial site was identified 2,000 from Jefferson main house, near the south end of the Monticello’s parking area for visitors. Insert: cropped photograph from group shot of slaves at Boon Plantation, North Carolina.
Detail of Monticello Slave Cemetery, 2017
Remnants of Jeffersons Nail Factory, Monticello, Virginia, 2017
Thomas Jefferson began his nail factory at Monticello to raise funds to replace poor soil on his farm. The factory produced an average of six tons of nails a year that were produced by slaves.
Description: Digital photograph of what is left of Nail Factory at Monticello. Insert: Historical photograph of Isaac Granger Jefferson (1775-1850) who was Jefferson blacksmith.
Detail of Remnants of Monticello’s Nail Factory
Insert: Isaac Jefferson who was the head nail maker for Thomas Jefferson.
Under the Big Tree, Monticello, Virginia, 2017
This scenic site of a tree and bench under it appeared to be a place where slaves could sit and have a thought of their own. Insert :group photo meant to represent enslaved people on the Jefferson Plantation.
Detail of Under the Big Tree, 2017
The Fabric of Race: Racial Violence and Lynching Installation
Between 1882 and 1968 over four thousand six hundred people were lynched. The victims were of all ages, race, and genders. The majority of the people lynched were African American men, many under the age of eighteen, and many accused of assaulting white women. Large mobs of white men broke into jails and literally dragged victims to their death before justice could be served.
While researching lynching in America it became clear that this part of American history is not discussed. Lynching was used to perpetuate racial superiority and gender heirachy amongst whites. White children were excused from school to view town lynchings with their parents. Young white girls and women attend for support, often collecting relics such as pieces of coal, nails and bits of clothing, after the event. Teenage boys took an active role in the violence and following close behind int the footsteps of their fathers, as a violent rites of passage into manhood. Older white men intentionally taught young white boys how to use fear to control the black race and supposedly preserves the dignity of white women.
Many victims were stripped naked and dismembered, literally burned alive. Body parts such as fingers, toes, teeth ears and genitals were collected as souvenirs. After bodies of victims were charred, sites were cleared because it was believed that souls could be kept from rising on judgement ay if their remains were burned and removed. Many victims today are still unidentified; it is said for every name known, four names are unknown.
The Fabric of Race: Racial Violence and lynching
Entry of Installation
Each shirt represents and honors a person lynched. The majority of the these individuals were African- American men, but also included women, children, Jewish and other minorities.
Detail of Identity Tag
Each shirt carries an identification tag, viewers are encouraged to touch and read tags. Offering away to connect with history, each tag carries the name and description of a lynched victim.
View of Lynching Quilt
Detail of Lynching Quilt
Overview of Installation
Hats are seen to left, and ties to the right.
Lynching Ties made with Vandyke photographic process or cotton fabric using imagery from lynching postcards.
Lynching hats made from paper and hat molds.
Detail of Lynching Hat
Text on Hat reads: I saw him pray.
Overview of Installation
To the left, Lynching hats, to the right Lynching relics.
Individual Mixed Media Pieces
While closing up the home of our beloved Great Uncle Herod Carpenter after his passing at the age of 97, it was clear that many of his belongings would become materials to tell his life story. His story of While closing up the home of our beloved Great Uncle Herod Carpenter, after his passing at the age of 97, it was clear that many of his belongings would become an African American man who migrated west in search of a safer life and community. Objects such as his Sunday best shirts reconfigured and are hand-sewn into a piecethat speaks to his devotion a spiritual life. And a pair of his very worn shoes combined with a set dictionaries fuse together to create a piece that addresses his commitment to education.
Materials include worn shoes, webster dictionary set, thread
Detail of Dic-shoe-naries
We the People Shoes
Materials used worn shoes, book pages, thread.
Detail of We the People Shoes
Prayer Shirts 2012
Detail of Prayer Shirts
Similar to books sitting together on a shelf each converted book in this series tells its own story but relates to other books.
This book recreated the tight quarters African's had to endure while traveling the middle passage.
For Luo Cuifen
I was inspired to create this book for Lou Cuifen, a young Chinese woman whom a doctor discovered she had twenty-four sewing needles embedded in her body when she was days old.
This book was made in honor of Lou Xiaoying who lived in Jinhua, China and rescued thirty abandon infants from the dump while looking for items to reuse and sell. Rest in Peace Lou Xiaoying, you are more than a good Samaritan, you are a saint.
Between the years 1990-1992, I served as a Peace Corp volunteer for two years in the country of Kiribati. At the time, we did not know that the atolls would slowly be swallowed by the swelling seas. The interactions I had with the people who live in Kiribati is what made my time living and teaching middle school on a seventeen mile long, one mile wide, coral atoll worth every minute I was there.