Pick of the Week: Ken Gonzales-Day
In “Another Land” at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles, Ken Gonzales-Day invites viewers to face the ugliest parts of ourselves and our nation’s history: its legacy of racialized violence. This latest series of drawings is informed by Gonzales-Day’s extensive research into the history of lynching in the conquest of the Americas and are a continuation of his “Erased Lynching” series, in which he appropriates and reinvents historic lynching images and artworks.
For this show, Gonzales-Day recreates a collection of paintings, drawings and prints originally presented in a 1935 group show, titled “An Art Commentary on Lynching,” designed to condemn the then-widespread practice of lynching in the South and persuade Congress to outlaw it. Paying homage to the participating artists and demonstrating his impressive stylistic range, Gonzales-Day painstakingly and lovingly recreates each artwork in ink-and-pencil drawings.
However, he makes the brilliant decision to remove any traces of violence and humanity present in the original works. Devoid of victims or ropes or lynch mobs, the new works suddenly feel even more hollow and sinister, especially when rendered in grayscale. We see craggy, blackened trees, coiling plumes of smoke, crumbling infrastructure, animals cowering in fear. There is an unmistakable air of terror and a visceral absence of people — there is no human life, only the ghosts of their violent past and the haunted landscapes they left behind.
Going back even further in time, Gonzales-Day also recreates four larger-scale watercolor drawings based on artworks from the 1500s-1700s that document the colonization of the Americas. Although they are similarly wiped of all evidence of human intervention, the vibrant colors and classical compositions look like pages out of a storybook, a fairytale façade belying the racial tensions between conquistadors and indigenous populations that were already taking root. Lurking in the recesses of these colorful landscapes is a haunting reminder that America has never been as pristine or innocent as it would like to appear.
What makes Gonzales-Day so special is his recognition of how the utilities of an archivist and historian go hand in hand with those of a visual artist. The importance and impact of his work in contemporary social justice movements beyond the art world cannot be understated. His academic and artistic investigations come together beautifully in “Another Land to” shed light on racialized legacies that we should all continue to confront and dismantle.
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