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Using her family’s oral history as a guide, Tamara K. Lanier successfully traced her ancestry, unearthing a great American story. In 1850, the famed Harvard scientist, Louis Agassiz, commissioned photographer J.T. Zealy to capture nude images of Renty and other African-born enslaved men and women. Pointing to the stark physical differences, Agassiz theorized a dark science alleging that Black people were a separate and inferior species, deserving to be enslaved. These infamous daguerreotypes, images that pirated the pride of Renty and Delia, are in Harvard’s collection today. In 1995-6, artist Carrie Mae Weems drew on the daguerrotypes for the series From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried. As Renty and Delia’s descendant, Tamara Lanier filed a landmark reparations lawsuit against Harvard in 2019 for the return of the daguerrotypes. The lawsuit, conducted with the assistance of civil rights attorneys Benjamin L. Crump and Michael Koskoff, asked the courts to consider – who should own the rights to the violence of the past?
Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Carrie Mae Weems: The Usual Suspects.