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Collection Spotlight

Glenn Ligon, Runaways

Glenn Ligon
Runaways, 1993
suite of ten lithographs (2011.34.1 pictured)
museum purchase

In Runaways, Glenn Ligon appropriates the style and format of the nineteenth-century broadsides 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 persons report to the police. He then paired their descriptions with imagery used by nineteenth-century abolitionists, placing them within the broadside format. His friends’ words are often limited to physical descriptions—“medium-dark skin” or “closely cut hair”—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.

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