Looking for Abolition

Plantation House, Minden, Louisiana, 2015. In the early 1900s, Adrian L. Burrell's not-so-distant ancestors sharecropped the land surrounding this mill house. The house is on the site of a former Louisiana plantation that still stands today. Photograph by Adrian L. Burrell.

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Looking for Abolition

by Tiffany E. Barber, Adrian. L. Burrell
Southern Cultures, Vol. 27, No. 3: The Abolitionist South

“What, to a young Black man, is F R E E D O M?”

Oakland-born artist Adrian L. Burrell is a light worker. Using lens-based media that require light to function (primarily photography and film), the artist has traversed various “Souths”—from the local to the global, including Louisiana, Mississippi, Nicaragua, Brazil, Nigeria, Senegal, and South Africa—to spotlight instances of struggle and self-determination. Burrell’s family history, along with his own encounters with state-sanctioned violence and the impacts of incarceration, inform his art. The majority of the artist’s ancestors were enslaved Africans and sharecroppers, and everyone in his family, except his sister, has been incarcerated or had confrontations with the state. Through his unique mode of visual storytelling, he excavates and fabulates his family’s ongoing search for abolition and liberation across generations and geographies. This history, which Burrell can trace back to the 1760s, is a microcosm of African American life—a compendium of past, present, and future practices of reckoning and refusal that Black subjects have employed, and continue to use in the afterlife of slavery.

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