[Seymour Lipton. Lynched, 1933. Mahogany.]
I could hardly look at this piece, because it was so vocal that I felt like it was screaming in my face. I felt as if I was trespassing… as if I should look away, out of respect for the dead. But then I realized that I wasn’t trespassing; after all, the artist clearly wanted people to look at his sculpture, or else he wouldn’t have created it. I only felt uncomfortable because it was forcing me to look at an ugly truth.
This piece was made in 1933, a time when lynching was still common, and a time when the president still refused to support legislation that would make lynching a federal crime.
The way this unnamed man’s body is naked and contorted on the ground in the fetal position is a graphically physical representation of the pain, oppression, and dehumanization that black Americans were being subjected to during this time period.
In the context of our current society, this sculpture carries massive weight, bringing to mind Mike Brown in particular. His dead body, riddled with bullets, was left on the street for four hours before being attended to. How is this any different from the discarded, lynched body in the sculpture? How have we progressed as society, when the lives of black Americans are still treated so lightly?
Thus, this sculpture forces us to look at and acknowledge what we don’t want to see, and to consider the treatment of the black community today. It begs the question: has anything really changed?
[Platt Powell Ryder. By the Hearth, 1877. Oil on canvas.] [Philip B. Hahs. Olden Time, 1880. Oil on canvas.]
Two completely different artists produced these two paintings, only three years apart. However, the curators at the Palmer were clearly making a deliberate decision in placing these paintings directly beside each other.
The white woman sits in her chair with her needlepoint work, most likely for leisure. The black woman, however, sits in her chair skinning vegetables… most likely not for leisure.
This juxtaposition asks us to acknowledge the very different lives of black women versus the lives of white women–and at the same time, asks us to acknowledge the similarities, and the shared experience of female subjugation by male-dominated power structures.