Erased Lynchings

Erased Lynching Series

Ken Gonzales-Day has been widely recognized for his “Erased Lynching” series, first exhibited  at New York’s Cue Foundation and at Pomona College in 2006. The following year it was exhibited at The Austrian Cultural Institute in NYC and in”Exile of the Imaginary” at the Generali Foundation in Vienna. It was then included in LACMA’s “Phantom Sightings” which travelled to the Tamayo and other Museums in 2008-2010. It was exhibited in Dublin at Temple Bar Gallery in 2008 and then at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, in 2009. In 2010, it went to The Museum of Photography in San Diego and Gallery TWP in Toronto in 2011. The series was included in a major solo exhibition at the Vincent Price Museum in 2012. In 2015 it was included in two traveling shows, “Our America” organized by the American Art Museum of the Smithsonian, and the other by the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, in Nashville. The Minnesota Museum of Art in St. Paul included this an other works in “Shadowlands,” a 2017 traveling solo exhibition. 24 works from the series will be exhibited in “Unseen” at the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian in 2018-19.

The series was sparked by anti-immigration rhetoric that directly led to an increase in vigilante activity along the U.S/Mexican border in the early 2000s.  Controversial and challenging on many levels, the project gave form to the historical erasure, or absence, of Latinos, Native Americans, Chinese, African-Americans, from historical accounts of lynching in the American West. Since then, the series has continued to grow to address, and include, cases from many regions of the nation. By removing the bodies of the lynching victims the project sought to resist re-victimizing those killed in acts of collective violence, and to create a discursive space that might invite viewers to consider, not only the crowd, but the larger social conditions that made such extrajudicial killings possible.

No artwork can address the horror of Lynching in the United States, nor the lasting trauma of lynching on African-American communities and families across this nation.  However, Gonzales-Day authored a detailed historical account of the history of Lynching in California in order to expand the number of known cases in the state from 50 to over 350 as well as draw attention to a region of the nation that is not normally associated with lynching. “Lynching in the West: 1850-1935” (A John Hope Franklin Center Book), was published by Duke University Press in 2006.

The third component of this multi-year interdisciplinary project was a series of photographs begun in 2002 in which Gonzales-Day went to visit and photograph sites where lynchings took place, or may have taken place, in California. The resulting work came to be known as the “Searching for California Hang Trees” series, which sought to emphasize another kind of erasure or absence and as a personal journey to memorialize a history that has been all but overlooked, not only for the killing of Latino/as, and other persons of color, but that the race of the victims may have contributed to  the lack of memorials and/or the amount of historical documentation available.

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 direct 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 racialized violence in this Nation. 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.

To watch the PBS segment from Lost LA click here.

To read Maurice Berger in Lens Blog.

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