Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America, is a visual testament to lynching as a form of social violence in the United States of America from 1880 to the 1960s. The photographs, postcards and memorabilia featured in the exhibition are shown in the UK for the first time. The images collectively reveal how deeply
ingrained racist ideologies had become, to the extent that by the early 1900s lynching was transformed into a major participatory form of entertainment and through photography into a space of commercial exchange and celebration.lynching was transformed into a major participatory form of entertainment and through photography into a space of commercial exchange and celebration.
Taken at various lynching events, the images of Without Sanctuary were not confined to any one period, place, or race and depict, in graphic detail, victims from a variety of backgrounds and characteristics: white, black, young, old, men, women, Jews and gentiles. However, most of the Americans lynched were African Americans: as many as 4,000 black men and women.
These photographs uncover a horrific American visual legacy, one that has often been left hidden, but which collector James Allen uncovered: ‘I believe the photographer was more than a perceptive spectator at lynchings. The photographic art played as significant a role in the ritual as torture or souvenir grabbing - a sort of two-dimensional biblical swine, a receptacle for a collective sinful self. Even dead, the victims were without sanctuary.’
Without Sanctuary serves as a stark reminder that freedom comes with a solemn responsibility on all citizens to treat others with dignity, respect and fairness. The exhibition bears witness to the victims, and to those whose individual and collective efforts helped end lynching, and serves as a reminder that there are still vulnerable populations today who need sanctuary from intimidation and oppression. Lynching is a distortion of human and civil rights, and so represents an assault on civilisation itself.
Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America, was organised by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Cincinnati, Ohio through the ownership of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Atlanta, Georgia. This exhibition wouldn’t have been possible without their generous support.
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(detail from) The lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, August 7, 1930, Marion, Indiana.