Lowcanes, 2011–18, is part of the photographic series Wanted, 2011–18, by artists Camal Pirbhai and Camille Turner. In this series of ten colour photographs, the artists transform written descriptions from eighteenth-century fugitive slave ads into oversized photographs that resemble contemporary fashion editorials. Pirbhai and Turner sourced the ads from historical Canadian newspapers, mining the texts for the sartorial descriptions that were reported as a way to identify freedom seekers.
Lowcanes is staged in reference to an ad written in 1775 that describes the eponymous “Lowcanes,” a man who was reported to have been seen wearing a “light coloured short coat with a red cape to it” when he fled his enslavers. The artists reimagine Lowcanes in the twenty-first century, seated at the end of a bar counter with a drink in his hand and a red and blue plaid cape draped over his shoulder. He assertively and confidently meets the viewer’s gaze. The artists state that rather than portraying freedom seekers like Lowcanes in the past “where their lives are constrained by the violence and inhumanity of institutionalized bondage,” they are presented in “the future space of possibility they dreamed about as they set off on their journey to freedom.”
With their Wanted series, Pirbhai and Turner rescript Canadian art history by creating a visual “oppositional archive” of Black history. As art historians Pamela Edmonds and Joana Joachim note in their 2022 article “salt. For the preservation of Black diasporic visual histories,” such an archive requires the dual practice of historical recuperation and contemporary documentation: a record-keeping of the Black lives that have been overlooked as well as of current work by Black Canadian artists.