Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, Shrimper and Son, © Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe.

Daufuskie Islanders, the Gullah People, Descendents of Freed Slaves

Gibbes Museum of Art
135 Meeting Street
843-722-2706
Charleston
South Carolina
The Rotunda Galleries
Daufuskie Island: Photographs by Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe
October 23, 2009-January 10, 2010

Jeanne. Moutoussamy-Ashe’s fascination with Daufuskie Island began during visits to the neighboring resort island Hilton Head with her husband, Arthur Ashe, in the 1970s. Since the end of the Civil War until the island was developed, Daufuskie was inhabited primarily by the Gullah people — freed slaves and their descendants — whose distinctive language and culture remained strongly influenced by their African heritage. With no bridge to the mainland and no electricity or telephone service until the mid-1950s, the island’s residents lived in relative isolation from the rest of the world. Daufuskie was the last of the Sea Islands to be transformed by tourism and real estate development.

Daufuskie Island: Photographs by Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe features approximately 40 black and white photographs of individuals, family and work documenting the Gullah community on Daufuskie Island, South Carolina from 1977-1981.

Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe was given unique access to the Daufuskie Islanders and the resulting photographs were documented in the book Daufuskie Island: A Photographic Essay. Many of the photographs from that book are featured in the Gibbes exhibition. The book was recently released in an expanded 25th Anniversary Edition. In the preface, Moutoussamy-Ashe explained, “Comparing the project now and then, I am struck with how so much is unchanged and yet so much is different at the same time. The photographs still carry the emotional and aesthetic charge I first felt when I was enlarging them all those years ago …

 

"I still treasure how I was welcomed into a characteristically private and shy community. Being allowed to watch their activities, and moreover photograph them, was a blessing, especially considering their reluctance to be photographed. I wrote in my original preface that they chose to trust me and trust that the pictures I was taking of them would somehow be worth it in the end. Because the Daufuskie I photographed no longer exists, I know now that these photos are an invaluable archive for the islanders and greater American society, which makes me confident that their trust was not misplaced.”

“This exhibition helps to preserve the culture of the rural south for future generations. We are delighted to have to the opportunity to feature these sensitive, beautifully executed photographs by Moutoussamy-Ashe in conjunction with the recent publication of her book,” noted Gibbes Executive Director Angela D. Mack.

Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe received her Bachelors of Fine Arts in photography from The Cooper Union. Graduating in 1975, she worked as a graphic artist and photojournalist for WNBC-TV. Starting in 1976 she has had frequent group and solo exhibitions at museums and galleries including the Leica Gallery, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York, the Smithsonian and the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, Galerie Herve Odermat in Paris and The Excelsior in Florence. She has published numerous books featuring not only her own work, but also that of unknown black photographers of the past.

Outside of the field of photography she has been continually involved in philanthropic pursuits involving various social, health and community issues. She is the director of the Arthur Ashe Endowment of the Defeat of AIDS, a former trustee of her alma mater The Cooper Union and a one-time Alternate Representative of the U.S. to the United Nations, a presidential appointment.

Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, Jake with his boat arriving on Daufuskie shore, © Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe.