Seeing shades of gray in the Million Man March
GLENN LIGON: The silk-screened paintings are based on news photographs of the Million Man March. And so I sort of collected a bunch of illustrations and started looking at them and trying to think about photographs that I could use to make paintings that address the issues that I was interested in about the march.
And I realized that in narrowing down the images, what I became interested in was images where you really didn’t see bodies; where the— the actual human figure was very distanced from you; was either in profile, in shadow, or very far away; and began to think about this question of absence, and the turning away of the body from the viewer.
And ironically – I didn’t know this at the time, but the Million Man March was also called the Day of Absence. And the Day of Absence was the thing that women and people not participating in the march were supposed to do – absent themselves from their jobs as a way of showing solidarity for the march.
And I found the specific exclusion of women from the march, particularly problematic. Because as Imiri Baraka said about the march, “Why take an army into battle, and then only bring half of it?”
And I think we’re at a moment where there’s a sort of uncertainty about what a positive and what a negative image might be. Was that a positive moment in African-American history, this sort of gathering of black men? Or was that a negative moment, in that it deliberately reinstated a kind of patriarchal notion of the black family, and a notion of black identity that systematically excluded women and gays and lesbians as active participants?
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