Quinn Alexandria Hunter at Praxis: Confronting False Narratives of a Romanticized Past
Several works by Quinn Alexandria Hunter are on view at Praxis Fiber Workshop until February 28 as part of the powerful exhibition “I Hear You Now, I See You Then”. A sculptor and performance artist from North Carolina, Hunter recently completed her MFA work at Ohio University. Primarily she works with hair as a medium, which she uses to recreate luxury objects from antebellum plantation houses. Luxury furnishings like rugs and chandeliers were major status-symbols for the moneyed elite of the South, whose wealth was directly created by the use of enslaved labor. Hunter’s work demonstrates that the lives, history, and bodies of those enslaved people have been erased to accommodate our modern romanticized view and current use of plantation houses. Each set of objects in the exhibition is tailored to a specific plantation home that is presently being used as a wedding venue.
Hunter explained in an interview: “There are so many plantations across the U.S., and particularly in the south that are contemporarily being used as wedding and event venues. Deep down, we know what these spaces are — but there is an erasure of that when there are people getting married and having the happiest moment of their lives in a space that not even two hundred years ago people lived and died enslaved.(…) So through my contemporary labor I am re-inscribing their erased and forgotten labor back into place.”
And her work is certainly laborious. Each rug is meticulously created by combining artificial hair extensions with her own hair, which is then pulled into a latch-hook canvas, where each individual loop is hand-pulled through the matrix. Hours upon hours of work was needed to create each piece, so much so that her wrist began to trouble her, and she had to hire a studio assistant to help finish the work.
The rug above references one at Twin Oaks Plantation, which is now called Everhope in Greene County Alabama. The Greek Revival Home was built in 1853 by the Carpenter family whose large cotton plantation enslaved at least 27 people (census records vary and are incomplete). Carpenter himself was a prominent member of the Confederacy, having organized a company of men called the Confederate Rangers on the lawn in front of the house in 1862 – they saw action at the battles of Chattanooga, Chickamauga, Nashville, and the Atlanta Campaign.
If you try to do even a cursory bit of research on the history of the plantation itself, you will find no mention of the cotton, or how it was harvested – or enslavement at all. Instead, you will find that the house has been re-branded as a happy destination for events. This is from their website:
“Everhope is approximately 35 minutes from The University of Alabama. We have hosted everyone – parents of students, professors, governors, CEOs, models, actors, rock stars, film crews, authors, professional athletes, and people like you and me looking for a place to unwind and unplug….Everhope is a stunning example of Greek Revival architecture, boasts its original heart of pine floors, windows, woodwork, and even its original doorbell! It was designed by architect David Rhinehart Anthony to be Big, Bold and Beautiful. Likely built with virgin pine and oak harvested on site, Everhope sports walls four times thicker than the modern standard. It has stood the test of time.”
This “Big, Bold and Beautiful” house has stood the test of time specifically because it was built to the highest of standards of the day, with funds gained directly through the enslavement of Africans. In each rug, Hunter illustrates the crop by which that fortune was made, in this case, cotton.
Venues like Everhope are conspicuously using the erasure of their history of enslavement for profit, as is the Nottoway Plantation in White Castle, Louisiana. In the 1850s, it was a vast sugar cane plantation. Today, it is (according to their website): “a AAA Four-Diamond property, and a member of Historic Hotels of America, the home of the South’s largest existing antebellum mansion, completed in 1859 and now stunningly restored to her days of glory.”
The original owner of Nottoway was John Randolph, who moved his family from a fairly unsuccessful cotton farm to southern Louisiana to try his luck with sugar cane. Only two years later he had tripled his earnings over that of his previous cotton venture. Within ten years he had increased his holdings to over 7000 acres and owned 176 enslaved people making Randolph one of the largest slaveholders in the South.
Sparing no expense on its construction, the house itself was largely built using enslaved labor, boasting double granite staircases and 64 rooms with 165 doors and 200 windows – over 53,000 square feet of space. Large Baccarat Crystal chandeliers hang from the 15-foot high ceilings, like the one found in the White Ballroom (see the image below). The cost of building the house was estimated at $80,000 in 1859, which is about 2.5 million dollars today. But again, a majority of the labor was completed by enslaved people.
Hunter’s chandeliers are constructed with artificial hair by hand, each corresponding directly to one found in a plantation home. It is hard to fight the urge to find them beautiful, because aesthetically of course they are, but that is certainly not Hunter’s intent. Instead they directly reference the pain, suffering, torture, and deaths of the enslaved people that made their purchase possible – and further, to the continued denial of the history of those lives, those bodies, with their use today.
As Hunter explains, “It is through my own labor and making that I am combating this trend. By using a material (hair weave) that is so ingrained and socially connected to the Black body to make these objects I am not only re-inscribing the history of enslaved labor back into these sites but connecting the historic Black body to the contemporary Black body” i.e., her own.
Having spent a considerable amount of time in Virginia with my relatives, I myself have been confronting this fraught legacy my entire life. I have attended countless family dinners, weddings, and occasions at several plantation homes, including Avenel, a plantation house in the small town of Bedford, Virginia – the surrounding 250 acres operated as a tobacco plantation using enslaved labor. I was raised with a greatly romanticized vision of the South, drawn from my experiences in picturesque mansions such as Avenel and films like Gone with the Wind, which I have since reckoned with and dismantled as part of my own anti-racist work. Today I cannot imagine attending a wedding or patronizing an establishment that is profiting on the complete and total obliteration of their grotesque past, and the souls of those that suffered there.
“It is only through erasure that such a happy event can be held in a space of such grand historic pain,” Hunter explains, and I wholeheartedly agree. At wedding venues like Nottoway Plantation, Magnolia Plantation and Twin Oaks, the harsh realities of enslavement are conveniently swept under the expensive rugs. Hunter’s work directly confronts this false narrative and the highly romanticized history pandered by these spaces, bringing the truth (literally) to light. It calls to mind the famous Ida B. Wells quote: “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”
Viewing Hours: Wednesday, February 24 from 12-4pm or by appointment. To make one email: contact@
To watch the recording of Quinn Alexandria Hunter’s Virtual Artist Talk, click here.
To learn more about the exhibition and Praxis Fiber Workshop, click here.