Two Contemporary Artists Recast White Male-Dominated World of Portraiture


Brendan L. Smith


In the dual exhibition organized by National Portrait Gallery curators Taína Caragol and Asma Naeem, Ken Gonzales-Day contrasts photos of busts or sculptures of famous white men (Ben Franklin, George Washington and others) with a photo of a bust of an African woman and illustrations of American Indians. But his most powerful work by far is his “Erased Lynching” series featuring historic photos and postcards of dozens of lynchings that were altered to remove the victims. The haunting result is a penetrating focus on the perpetrators and indifferent witnesses in the photos, as the murderers and crowds of white onlookers view the snuffing of innocent lives as a tourist attraction. The saddest aspect is the children standing in the front of some of the crowds, ensuring that a legacy of brutality and racism was passed on to the next generation. That legacy continues today, but the lynchings have been replaced by the shooting of unarmed black men by police who rarely face prosecution.

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