Installation of "Der Wild West..." Reno, Nevada, 2013.
The Erased Lynching series (2000-2013) initially came about as an artistic response to the fact that racially motivated lynching and vigilantism had been under represented, and even mis-represented, in a number of historical texts when I began the project in 2000. My specific interest in this particular topic grew out of concern over the increased tensions that began to emerge along Mexico's boarder after 9/11. A new breed of vigilantes had begun to take up arms.
In light of these, and other events, the project sought to highlight the then, little known fact that race was a contributing factor in California's own history of lynching and vigilantism. When taken together, the lynching of African Americans, Chinese, Latinos, and American Indians, outnumbered white on white vigilantism by nearly two to one, and revealed that race was clearly a contributing factor in many of the historical cases. The research I conducted was incorporated into my first book, Lynching in the West: 1850-1935, The research contributed to the making of two separate art projects, and a small portfolio of images was included in the book itself. The book also sought to highlight the fact that more Latinos were lynched in California than persons of any other race or ethnicity, and the book sought to address how and why such a troubling piece of our nation's history had been nearly forgotten or so overlooked that these cases were rarel, if ever, included in histories on lyching in the United States, and that even when they were, they were often misidentified or misclassified.
The images in this series derive from appropriated lynching postcards, mostly from the American West, but not exclusively, and from other archival source materials from which I removed the lynch victim and the rope from the image. This conceptual gesture was intended to redirect the viewers attention away from the lifeless body of lynch victim and towards the mechanisms of lynching and lynching photography, to allow viewers to see the crowd, the mechanisms of the spectacle, the role of the photographer, and even the impact of flash photography, and their influence on our understanding of this dismal past. The perpetrators, when 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. For a more detailed analysis see Maurice Berger's essay Lynchings in the West, Erased from History and Photos in the New York Times Lens Blog.
As an artistic gesture, these absences or empty spaces become emblematic of a forgotten history -- made all the more palpable in light of our expanding understanding of America's history of lynching. In the billboard images, I strive to place this forgotten history back in the landscape, and as way of resisting the historical invisibility of so many of these events, at times literally regrounding this history in a historical, social, and physical landscape.
To see additional images from this series, click on the image above, or on "images" in the upper left corner of the page.