Claremont Colleges Digital Library, Claremont, CA

Ken Gonzales-Day Collection


About this collection

Ken Gonzales-Day lives and works in Los Angeles. He received his MFA from UC Irvine, and his MA in Art History from Hunter College (C.U.N.Y). Fellowships include The Whitney Museum of American Art, ISP; Rockefeller Foundation Study and Conference Center in Bellagio (Italy); (Latino Studies) American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution, and the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles (2008). Gonzales-Day is a Professor at Scripps College in California.

Included in the collection are Gonzales-Day’s images that Gonzales-Day used to compile his art and publications, notebooks documenting his research, and photographs and documentation of art installations. See published articles within the Faculty Scholarship at The Claremont Colleges collection and other items by Ken Gonzales-Day in the Claremont Colleges Digital Library.

To browse the CCDL collection


Overview of projects included:

Lynching in the West
There have been many books published on lynching in the United States but only a handful include more than a cursory glance to the Western region of the nation. When they do, the information is usually out of date or inaccurate. Lynching in the West began as an effort to expand the historical record in one of these states, and in doing so, Gonzales-Day discovered that contrary to the vast majority of published texts and histories on California, frontier justice and vigilantism were not always a racially neutral set of practices. The book includes a detailed appendix, assembled by the author, of individual cases of lynching and other forms of public execution. The appended case list reveals that in California, along with the many persons of Anglo, European, Asian, African, and Native American descent who were lynched, Latinos of Mexican and Latin American descent were more likely to be lynched than any other racial, ethnic or national group.

The book also considers how eighteenth and nineteenth-century theories of race, nationality, and ethnicity, may have contributed to this history. From the vigilance committee to the anti-lynching movement, lynching touched nearly every community in the United States and continues to serve as a catalyst for thinking about race, ethnicity, and national identity today. In revisiting this seemingly distant past, contemporary readers will be surprised to learn that debates about securing national borders, racial and ethnic identity, and even questions of equality under the law, are anything but new.

Bone-Grass Boy
Bone-Grass Boy: The Secret Banks of the Conejos River (1995-2000) was a conceptually driven project that manifested itself in two ways: one, as a literary trope of the frontier novel of the late nineteenth century, and two, as a digitally constructed artifact whose material existence stood in for the historical absence of such texts. Not surprisingly, such novels often depicted Native and Latino inhabitants as ridiculous personages encountered on an otherwise naturalized conquest of the West. Bone-Grass Boy is their nemesis. Set during the U.S.-Mexican War (1846-48), a period that saw bitter struggles between cultures, the work depicts the effects of the annexation of the Southwest on two main characters. Ramoncita is a Native/Latina “two-spirit person” who, the reader learns, is forced to kill the rancher to whom she has been indentured. Nepomuceno, a New Mexican soldier, fights on the Mexican side, only to have to sneak back to his homeland, now an American territory.

As a project, Bone-Grass Boy makes use of new technologies in an attempt to construct what might be thought of as a fictitious “nevermade.” It thus plays off Marcel Duchamp’s now archetypal ready-mades such as Fountain (1917), a signed urinal that was initially rejected for its conceptual illegibility.

The reversal of the ready-made — that is to say, the creation of an object that was never made, but is given the appearance of a historical document — offers a subtle and humorous critique of the avant-garde appropriation of the everyday object, which, it could be argued, made use of objects that, at the most basic level, retained the historical and material privileges of Western culture. Because of the opacity of cultural difference embodied within the images and the text, some might argue that Bone-Grass Boy’s performative and narrative intervention challenges once-static notions of authenticity.

The Dysmorphologies series began as an exploration of the grid, the body, and the idea of the photographic document. The photographic grid first appeared in the nineteenth century where it was employed in the collection and comparison of scientific data. As a form, the grid can communicate complex ideas through simple visual comparisons. Social Darwinist, ethnographers, criminologists, and numerous other fields of study have regularly made use of the grid. In the twentieth century, the grid reappeared in a very different context. The art historian Rosalind Krauss, and others, have been quick to note that visual artists employed the grid to affirm the two-dimensionality of the picture plane — a visual metaphor that came to represent modernism itself.

Part archival collection, part fragmented portrait, this series took the human figure as its primary subject. Abstracted, disjointed, fractured, the images seem to insist that although a fragmented portrait may differ from a conventional one, the viewer can still perceive the body implied beneath the image’s surface. In this series, tattoos, scars, wrinkles, and other dysmorphologies were isolated, explored, poked, and prodded, ultimately generating images that were described in the Los Angeles Times as both ominous and strangely seductive.

Erased Lynching
The Erased Lynching series sought to reveal that racially motivated lynching and vigilantism was a more widespread practice in the American West than was believed and that in California, the majority of lynchings were perpetrated against Latinos, Native Americans, and Asian Americans; and that more Latinos were lynched in California than were persons of any other race or ethnicity.

The images derive from appropriated lynching postcards and archival materials in which the lynch victim and the ropes have all been removed — a conceptual gesture intended to direct the viewer’s attention, not upon the lifeless body of lynching victim, but upon the mechanisms of lynching themselves: the crowd, the spectacle, the photographer, and even consider the impact of flash photography upon this dismal past. The perpetrators, if present, remain fully visible, jeering, laughing, or pulling at the air in a deadly pantomime. As such, this series strives to make the invisible — visible.

These absences or empty spaces become emblematic of the forgotten history made all the more palpable in light of the recent events surrounding the resurgence of the noose as means of intimidation and instilling fear everywhere from the workplace to the schoolyard.

Hang Trees
This series is entitled, Searching for California’s Hang Trees, or just Hang Trees for short. The images were taken over a six-year period. In photographing these sites, Gonzales-Day traveled to nearly every county in the state of California. All of the images were taken with an old wooden Deardorff 8 x 10 camera.

Searching for California’s Hang Trees derived from Gonzales-Day’s own research into the history of lynching in California. He explains, “I began this project by trying to assemble the most complete record of lynching in California that I could, and I was particularly interested in discovering how nineteenth-century conceptions of difference (race, creed, color, national origin, and even gender) might have obscured the fact that, when taken collectively, Native Americans, African Americans, Chinese immigrants, and Latinos, fell victim to the mob’s anger more often than persons of Anglo or European descent.”

Using historical records, he spent many long hours and multiple expeditions wandering in the California landscape looking for clues to the little-known history. As overwhelming as the undertaking was, he summarized his motivation when he stated that, “I set out to look for, to witness, as many of the sites as I could — even knowing that many could never be found.”

Public Art: Los Angeles County Administrative Building
Vermont at 84th Los Angeles, California

The Los Angeles County Administrative building will provide city services to area residents and add a major new building to the city. This public art project will include four major works installed throughout the building’s interior and exterior spaces.

California’s native oaks once grew throughout Los Angeles County but today one can only find them in a handful of public green spaces. Acknowledging the state’s many native species, this project seeks to reintroduce the oak to the urban landscape — symbolically, if not literally. This public art project was designed to accent the building’s design, and perhaps even serve as a metaphor for urban renewal and re-growth. It is hoped that the imagery will positively impact clients and community members in a region of the city that provides residents with limited opportunities to experience either art or green space.