Autograph, London

C. Rose Smith:
Talking Back to Power

13 Jun – 12 Oct 2024

Free exhibition
Curated by Bindi Vora

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Confronting the histories of violence and wealth on cotton plantations in the Southern United States, Talking Back to Power proposes a reclamation of black visibility


Rivington Place
London EC2A 3BA, UK



Prebook free, timed tickets or visit anytime the gallery is open

opening hours

Wed, Fri: 11am - 6pm
Thu: 11am - 9pm
Sat: 12:30 - 6pm


Focused on the intricate dynamics of visibility and authority, Talking Back to Power proposes a reclamation of black visibility. C. Rose Smith’s evocative black and white self-portraits revolve around the white cotton shirt, staged at locations affiliated with the wealth generated from cotton plantations in the Southern United States of America.

During the 19th century, cotton was one of the most lucrative global commodities. Built on the forced labour of millions of enslaved Africans, plantation complexes that grew, cultivated and sold this crop formed the basis of monumental economic advancement and progress.

Throughout her photographs, Smith fashions a crisp white button-up shirt, a potent emblem of both exploitation and respectability. She poses in opulently decorated antebellum homes in Tennessee, South Carolina and Louisiana, by-products of the wealth amassed by the owners of cotton plantations. Entrenched throughout these buildings is the lingering spectre of the magnitude of violence and anguish that is inextricably linked to chattel slavery. Despite many undergoing meticulous restorations and now serving as tourist destinations, these buildings bear witness to the enduring legacy of human suffering.

“There is a humility in sitting as an act of rest in starched white cotton garments, envisioning my ancestors labouring in endless fields…knowing who I belong to, a race of people who are the true and living architects of this nation”

— C.Rose Smith

Emulating the formal compositions of 19th century oil paintings, Smith’s portraits powerfully reflect on the black body as a former commodity. Her unwavering gaze commands attention within the gallery space, underscored by the echoing sound of the bell chiming at Belmont Mansion in Tennessee. Smith’s confronting presence demands visibility as an act of resistance. In the artist’s own words: “it is unexplainable and almost unimaginable to take up the freedom of expression as a maker of images…there is an unsettling consolation in confronting, addressing and contesting structures that have and continue to exist as archives of anti-blackness."


Gallery 2

Untitled no. 51, Nottoway Plantation, White Castle,   

Untitled no. 90, Belmont Mansion, Nashville, Tennessee

Untitled no. 82, Joseph Aiken House, Charleston, South Carolina


Reclaiming History: Power and Visibility

Performance and discussion, Fri 14 Jun, 6pm

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Exhibition Opening Night

Free, Wed 12 Jun, 6-8pm

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5 Things to Know About C. Rose Smith: Talking Back to Power

Introducing the artist and key themes in the new exhibition

Read blog post | 4 min read

New Commission: Belmont Mansion

Find out more about the newly commissioned works in the exhibition

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Talking Back to Power: A Time of Future Past

The artist in conversation with exhibition curator Bindi Vora

Read blog post | 8 min read

VR Visit

Virtually visit highlights from the exhibition with this VR experience

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about the artist

C. Rose Smith

C. Rose Smith (born 1995), is a visual artist examining the role of photography in constructing the layers of identity and individuality.

Using fashion, site-specificity and elements gleaned from studio-portraiture, her photographs engender a subversive performance that gestures a critique of social norms. Her work has been exhibited in group exhibitions in the U.S. and Europe, and is held in private collections. Smith is an MFA candidate in Photography at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY and earned a BFA in Photography from Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta, GA. She is based in Memphis, TN.

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Everyone is welcome at Autograph. Planning a visit? Have a look at our Visit Us page to find out more about getting to the gallery, accessibility and more.


Accessible VEnue

Autograph welcomes people with all types of disabilities.


Step free

Our building and entrance is step free. A wheelchair accessible lift goes to all floors.

also coming up at Autograph

Ernest Cole: A Lens in Exile

The first exhibition of Ernest Cole's photographs documenting New York City during the height of the civil rights movement in America – capturing the vibrant expression of blackness and community during this time.

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Belmont Mansion (2023) from the series Talking Back to Power is commissioned by Autograph, London and FotoFest, Houston.

supported by

All images by C. Rose Smith, courtesy the artist. Banner: Untitled no. 55, Nottoway Plantation, White Castle, LA [detail].

Exhibition preview: 1) C. Rose Smith: Talking Back to Power exhibition at Autograph. 13 June - 12 October 2024. Curated by Bindi Vora. Photograph by Kate Elliott. 2) Untitled no. 51, Nottoway Plantation, White Castle, LA. 3) Untitled no. 90, Belmont Mansion, Nashville, TN. 4) Untitled no. 82, Joseph Aiken House, Charleston, SC.

About the artist: Courtesy of C.Rose Smith (2024).

Coming up at Autograph: Ernest Cole, Religious and patriotic family [detail]. Harlem, New York, circa 1970. © Ernest Cole / Magnum Photos