Glenn Ligon “Narratives” 1993




I went into Luhring Augustine today specifically to see their small Glenn Ligon collection upstairs. One of my favorite living artists, Ligon examines issues of race, sexuality, history and representation via the use of passages and citations from a variety of literary writers and cultural critics such as James Baldwin, Frantz Fanon, bell hooks and Ralph Ellison. Masterfully eloquent and open, Ligon delivers the viewer a diachronic and pervasive analysis on themes of slavery, oppression and freedom in African-American history and identity.

These particular panels are from his show “Narratives” (1993) in which Ligon speaks through traditional image: the format and font of these prints resemble the title pages of mid-19th century slave narratives. Though he includes quotations from Hilton Als, Josephine Baker and Derek Walcott, the story is his own. Not only does Ligon borrow the typographic style of these title pages, he adopts a historic vernacular. In the act of reading and seeing Ligon’s late 20th century prints, the viewer must also consider the context and history of the original, personal, heart-wrenching, realistic and persuasive accounts of slavery. Correspondingly, Ligon tells of his own life and stresses the truth of this kind of honest and suggestive autobiography. Some are almost identical to actual titles of slave narratives, and others are evocative of adventure, suffering and sex.

To anyone who is not familiar with Ligon’s work I highly recommend purveying his repertoire to gain cogent insight into the most important and critical chapter in American history, a narrative that must be constantly questioned and scrutinized as we move forward in our fight for equality.

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