Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy - Untitled from Runaways

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Image of Untitled from Runaways

Glenn Ligon , b. 1960

Untitled from Runaways

16 in. x 22 in. (40.64 cm x 55.88 cm)

Medium and Support: Lithograph
Credit Line: Museum purchase, Class of 1954 Fund with support of the African American Art Acquisition Fund
Accession Number: 2011.34.2


In Runaways, Glenn Ligon appropriates the style and format of the
nineteenth-century broadsheets that advertised for the return of escaped
slaves. Exploring the construction of identity, Ligon asked his friends to
describe him as if they were filling out a missing person report to the
police. He then paired their descriptions with imagery used by nineteenthcentury
abolitionists, placing them in the broadsheet format. His friends’
words are often limited to physical descriptions—“medium-dark skin,”
“closely cut hair,” “shortish broad-shouldered black man”—much like the
way African Americans were described by nineteenth-century slaveholders.
Here, the artist assumes the persona of the runaway slave and inserts
himself into history to explore a connection between the past and who he
is today.
By presenting various dualities in each print—word and image, black and
white, absence and presence, and past and present—Runaways calls into
question the construction of history and identity. Who is it who sees, who
names, and who records a person, a race, then and now? Ligon once said,
“The lithos…are about the relationship between the individuals whom I
know and the context in which we live. The question is: What does it mean
to suggest that one’s friend have a similar relationship to you that a slave
owner would have had with a slave? What does it say about the society in
which those friendships are formed and the position of blacks in it?”

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