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INTRO X DJ, Songs of the Gullah Campaign Image, 2020. Courtesy of the artist
Who Harvested Cotton in the American South?

Who Harvested Cotton in the American South?

Oral history, archival research, and scientific testing show that the cotton trade relied on Indigenous erasure from fertile land and the enslavement of Africans for labour. Who were some of these people? Where did they come from?

Cotton grew well in the low-country region and coast islands of the U.S. from Wilmington, North Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida. This area was the traditional territory of the Karankawa, Akokisa, and Atakapa-Ishak First Nations. European colonial powers violently took their land for the cultivation of commercial cotton. From the late 1700s, the British enslaved Africans from Sierra Leone and Angola, settling them in this area. Their descendants, the Gullah/Geechee, preserved their heritage through language, craft, food, and music. Over time these rich contributions influenced Southern American culture. 

Damian Jöel

Damian Jöel is a multi-disciplinary artist whose practice fuses fashion storytelling with activism and archival intervention. An immigrant himself, Jöel was drawn to the Gullah/Geechee’s protection of their West African heritage amidst Western assimilation. Jöel’s fashion story, Songs of the Gullah, shares their history through film and genderless garments made of deadstock, upcycled fabric – referencing the nation’s own sustainable methods of living off the land.

Damian Jöel’s garments are a triptych of the Gullah/Geechee’s past, present, and future. Taking inspiration from archival images, Jöel consulted with Queen Quet of the Gullah/Geechee nation to create a fashion story that blends spirituality, nature, labour and heritage.

James F Gibson, Cumberland Landing, Va. Group of “contrabands” at Foller’s house, 1862, stereograph. Photo credit: Civil war photographs, 1861-1865, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Henry P Moore, Slaves of the rebel Genl. Thomas F. Drayton, Hilton Head, South Carolina, 1862, photograph. Photo credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Alfred Bendiner Memorial Collection.

Damian Jöel, Songs of the Gullah, 2020. Photo: Paul Litherland
Turtle Dove represents duality: the nation’s cultivation of their Yoruban spiritual traditions amidst Western exposure to Christianity. Wide, voluminous trousers recall ‘Moko Jumbie,’ a ghost spirit with West African roots.

INTRO X DJ, Songs of the Gullah Campaign Image, Turtle Dove, 2020. Courtesy of the artist.
Turtle Dove represents duality: the nation’s cultivation of their Yoruban spiritual traditions amidst Western exposure to Christianity. Wide, voluminous trousers recall ‘Moko Jumbie,’ a ghost spirit with West African roots.

INTRO X DJ, Songs of the Gullah Campaign Image, Turtle Dove, 2020. Courtesy of the artist.
Damian Jöel, Turtle Dove, 2020. Photo: Paul Litherland
Damian Jordan River, 2020. Photo: Paul Litherland
Jordan River references the sacredness of water: to Yoruban spirituality, the Middle Passage, and the nation’s current fight to protect their waterways from climate change and commercial development.

INTRO X DJ, Songs of the Gullah Campaign Image, Jordan River, 2020. Courtesy of the artist.
Jordan River references the sacredness of water: to Yoruban spirituality, the Middle Passage, and the nation’s current fight to protect their waterways from climate change and commercial development.

INTRO X DJ, Songs of the Gullah Campaign Image, Jordan River, 2020. Courtesy of the artist.
Damian Jöel, Songs of the Gullah, 2020. Photo: Paul Litherland
Green Sally Up reinterprets workwear to show the importance of working on the land to this self-sufficient nation.

NTRO X DJ, Songs of the Gullah Campaign Image, Green Sally Up, 2020. Courtesy of the artist
Damian Jöel, Green Sally Up, 2020. Photo: Paul Litherland
Damian Jöel, Songs of the Gullah, 2020. Photo: Paul Litherland
Green Sally Up reinterprets workwear to show the importance of working on the land to this self-sufficient nation.

INTRO X DJ, Songs of the Gullah Campaign Image, Green Sally Up, 2020. Courtesy of the artist
Where are they now?
Click here to visit the Gullah/Geechee Nation's website
Footnotes
Image Credits