Erased Lynching Series
My photographic work that has been most widely recognized is from the Erased Lynching Series which helped to raise awareness of the history of lynching in California and also brought new scholarship to the history of lynching nationwide. The research specifically expanded the number of known cases in California seven fold, and the work has expanded to include the lynching of African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, and Jews, in the American West and nationwide. The series is notable for its use of historic images, from which I have used digital technology to erasure of the lynching victim and the rope from historic depictions of lynchings, from etchings, historic photographs, and postcards, which I have collected over the past twenty years. By erasing the victim’s bodies, I sought to create a visual experience that would force the viewer to focus on the crowd and in doing so, to address the underlying racism and bias that was foundational to these acts of collective violence that has increasingly come to be seen as central to the discourse on race in America.
The artwork was created to raise awareness and to help viewers visualize whiteness by drawing attention to what is missing, absent, erased. Rather than re-victimizing those murdered in such collective and often premeditated acts of killing, the work allows the viewer to literally focus on the crowd – complete with their jeering and smiling faces, and hopes to promote a critical exploration of American history.
No artwork can address the horror of Lynching in the United States, nor the lasting trauma of lynching on African-Americans and their families, but the project was created in solidarity with a range of new scholarship on lynching that began to emerge in the early 2000s. To do this, the project included a 300 page monograph which details hundreds of cases of lynching in the State of California and expanded the number of known cases in the state from 50, to over 350, and in doing so, drew attention to a region of the nation that is not normally associated with lynching. My monograph, “Lynching in the West: 1850-1935” (A John Hope Franklin Center Book) was published by Duke University Press in 2006. The series was actually sparked by anti-immigration/ anti-Latinx rhetoric that directly led to an increase in vigilante activity against Mexican and other immigrants along the U.S/Mexican border in the early 2000s. Since then, the series has continued to grow to address, and include, cases from many regions of the nation, and even Mexico in an attempt to show the impact of lynching on many POC communities. Challenging the traditional understanding of racialized violence in America, the project initially sought to address the historical erasure of Latinos, Native Americans, Chinese, African-Americans, and others, from historical accounts of lynching in the American West.
On a more symbolic level, by removing the bodies of the lynching victim, the project sought to resist re-victimizing those killed in acts of collective violence, and to create a discursive space that might allow viewers to consider, not only the crowd, but the larger social conditions that made such extrajudicial killings possible in nearly every state of the nation.
Since 2006, the series has continued to grow to address, and now includes cases from many regions of the nation, and Mexico.
To watch the PBS segment from Lost LA click here.
To read Maurice Berger in Lens Blog.
The “Erased Lynching” series was first exhibited in Los Angeles in 2005, New York’s Cue Art Foundation and at Pomona College Museum of Art in 2006, and has continued to grow since then. In 2007, it was exhibited in “Exile of the Imaginary” at the Generali Foundation in Vienna, Austria and The Austrian Cultural Institute in NYC, LAX Art in Los Angeles. Selections of the work were included in LACMA’s “Phantom Sightings” which travelled to the Tamayo Museum in Mexico City, and across the US and Mexico from 2008-2010. Selections of the work were exhibited in Dublin at Temple Bar Gallery in 2008 and then at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, in 2009, The Museum of Photography in San Diego in 2010, and Gallery TWP in Toronto in 2011. Selections were included in a solo exhibition at the Vincent Price Museum in 2012. In 2015, portions were included in two traveling shows, “Our America” organized by the American Art Museum of the Smithsonian, and “Phantom Bodies,” organized by the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, in Nashville. The Minnesota Museum of Art in St. Paul included this and other works in “Shadowlands,” a traveling solo exhibition in 2017. Portions of the series have been exhibited at Leslie-Lohman Gay and Lesbian Museum n NYC (2016). Selections from the series were also included in “Unseen: Our past in a new light: Ken Gonzales-Day and Titus Kaphar,” at the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian in 2018-19, and at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles at Untitled Art, Miami, 2019, among others.
To read ArtForum critics’ picks of Shadowlands at the Minnesota Museum of American Art in Saint Paul.