Ken Gonzales-Day has been widely recognized for his “Erased Lynching” series. The series was sparked by anti-immigration rhetoric that directly led to an increase in vigilante activity along the U.S/Mexican boarder in the early 2000s. Controversial and challenging on many levels, the project gave form to the historical erasure, or absence, of Latinos from historical accounts of lynching in the United States. The series was part of a larger project that also included the “Searching for California Hang Trees” series. In this body of work, Gonzales-Day travelled across the State of California looking for some of the locations of the over 350 lynching cases he had identified in his research. The third, and perhaps most challenging element of the project, began while Gonzales-Day was a fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center Residency Program in Italy. It was there that Gonzales-Day drafted the first chapters of his book, “Lynching in the West: 1850-1935” (A John Hope Franklin Center Book), published by Duke University Press in 2006. Taught at universities and colleges across the Nation, it continues to be widely cited.
Works from the project were exhibited in “Phantom Sightings” a traveling exhibition organized by LACMA; the Vincent Price Museum in east Los Angeles; “Our America,” a traveling exhibition of the American Art Museum of the Smithsonian Institution; “Shadowlands,” a (traveling) mid-career survey at the Minnesota Museum of American Art in St. Paul; The Tamayo Museum in Mexico City; The Generali Foundation in Vienna; and the Palais de Tokyo in Paris; among others.
The images in the “Erased Lynching” series began in 2002 and were derived from appropriated lynching postcards and archival source material from which Gonzales-Day removed the victim and the rope from each image. This conceptual gesture was intended to redirect the viewers attention away from the lifeless body of the lynch victim and towards the mechanisms of lynching themselves. The work asks viewers to consider the crowd, the spectacle, the role of the photographer, and even the impact of flash photography, and their various contributions to our understanding of this dismal past. The perpetrators, when present, remain fully visible, jeering, laughing, or pulling at the air in what can only be described as a deadly pantomime. As such, this series strives to make the invisible –visible, and to resist the re-victimization of the lynching victim.