Toward a Liturgy of Emancipation, Kara Springer at The Galleries at Moore

In honor of our new book, "The Noble Art of Art Writing, The Art Writing Challenge," we will be publishing a selection of outstanding challenge winners. Up first is 2017 winner Huewayne Watson, who curated the upcoming show at the African American Museum in Philadelphia (on view March 20, 2020- May 31, 2020!) To order a book, email!

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This essay was originally published on Feb 17, 2018. It was the “Velvet Glove Prize Winner” of the 2017 Artblog New Art Writing Challenge. We feature it today in honor of our new book, “The Noble Art of Art Writing, The Art Writing Challenge” in which it is published. You can order your own copy by emailing

This post in particular was chosen for its author, Huewayne Watson, who curated the upcoming show Anna Russell Jones: The Art of Design, which will be on view at the African American Museum in Philadelphia (AAMP) from March 20, 2020- May 31, 2020. The opening reception is on Friday, March 20 and will have remarks by the Huewayne.]

Toward a Liturgy of Emancipation, Kara Springer at The Galleries at Moore
by Huewayne Watson

Before 1834, enslaved people in the Caribbean waited for the official decrees of deliverance—freedom from British systems of slavery and colonialism. The sense of time and occasion that they experienced is just the type of meditation that Kara Springer evokes in her recent photographic installation, Ten Days Before Freedom, A Hymnal.

The installation consists of several color prints depicting the sun-lit, brilliant white peaks and striated shadows of a large canopy tent, set against a backdrop of blue sky, faint clouds, and tropical trees. The repetition of prints standing freely in raw poplar wood frames generates the illusion that countless canopies have been installed throughout the gallery.

artblog huewayne kara springer
Installation shot of Kara Springer’s “Ten Days Before Freedom, A Hymnal” at The Galleries at Moore; image courtesy of Huewayne Watson.

The scale of the prints and breadth of space between each frame permits close observation between the rows and aisles that are formed, while an accompanying arrangement of four benches signifies a liturgical space. Wherever the place might be that is represented in these images, we understand that something important happened here/there.

Ten Days Before, Freedom, A Hymnal sheds light on the long history of transatlantic slavery while also evidencing the celebration of full freedom that is observed annually by African descended people throughout the Americas. In particular, Springer’s installation brings to the foreground the people of Fox Hill, Bahamas whose yearly commemoration acknowledges what was a ten-day lapse in time before receiving word of their liberation. News of the Slavery Abolition Act, 1833, which officially took effect on August 1, 1834, had been unevenly circulated between the various islands and their interiors. Likewise, in the United States, near the end of the Civil War, news of emancipation came late to enslaved people in Texas, which eventually gave rise to yearly Juneteenth celebrations across the country.

What did it mean to wait when the possibility of living a life worth celebrating was under the constant threat of death, violence, unthinkable punishment, psychological oppression and racial subjugation? Given that the average life expectancy of an enslaved person was only seven years in the context of Bahamian slavery, waiting even a day longer would have been too much for any number of those who labored in intense heat under the relentless tropical sun on sugar, coffee, other cash crop plantations, and somehow endured the harrowing calculations made against their bodies and their time.

British colonialism and slavery in the Atlantic was meant to be a totalizing force. However, the empire had to ultimately surrender to its own faulty logics in order to avoid all-out resistance on the part of the enslaved, which threatened the complete dissolution of English holding in the Caribbean. There is something terrifying in the calm and stillness of the scene depicted in the prints, from which people are intentionally absented. Springer sets up a tension whereby viewers have to do the labor of imagining who or what is to be revived under the canopies.

Ten Days Before Freedom, A Hymnal presents a distinct visualization of emancipation, repeated like a refrain, that courses through the 1834 Baptist War in Jamaica, Jose Antonio Aponte’s 1812 rebellion in Cuba, the blowing of the conch shell that signaled the Haitian Revolution, and the eventual banning of African drums on plantations throughout the American South. Kara Springer effectively transports her audience through space and time to a sacred and meditative place in the long history and genealogy of freedom with a photographic installation that reads visually like a modern liturgy of emancipation.

Ten Days Before Freedom, A Hymnal will be on view at The Galleries at Moore through March 17th, 2018.