Glenn Ligon: Runaways
This exhibition is a grant recipient of the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities’ “What is Freedom?” initiative. Supported in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Verizon Foundation.
To create this print portfolio, entitled Runaways, conceptual artist Glenn Ligon (American, b. 1960) closely studied 19th-century broadsheets (posters) announcing runaway slaves.He also looked at abolitionist publications with portraits of Frederick Douglass and other famous escaped slaves.Ligon then asked his friends to write descriptions of him without telling them his purpose.
Runaways appropriates all of this material – the distinctive typeface and visual conventions of the runaway slave posters, 19th-century caricatures of African Americans, and ennobling images from the abolitionists – and combines it with ten different descriptions of the artist himself, a contemporary African American man. By substituting the description of his own body for the text about the runaway, Ligon asks his viewers to consider how the history of slavery still reverberates in the United States today.How do we describe others? How do we describe ourselves? For Glenn Ligon, identity is socially constructed and inextricably connected to the past.