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Ken Gonzales-Day with his Erased Lynchings (2000-2020). Credit Andrew Harnik, AP Photo.

Ken Gonzales-Day’s interdisciplinary and conceptually grounded photographic projects consider the history of photography, the construction of race, and the limits of representational systems. Gonzales-Day is a Getty scholar and a Terra Foundation and Smithsonian Museum fellow.  In 2018, he was the subject of a solo exhibition at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. A former Chair and current professor of art at Scripps College, Gonzales-Day’s exhaustive research and book Lynching in the West, 1850-1935 (2006) led to a re-evaluation of the history of lynching in this country. The book shed light on the little-known history of frontier justice and vigilantism and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. The Erased Lynchings series of photographs was a product of this research, which revealed that race was a contributing factor in California's own history of lynching and vigilantism, and through which he discovered that the majority of victims were Mexican or, like him, Mexican-American. Gonzales-Day takes the same scholarly approach to his ongoing Profiled series, which looks to the depiction of race and the construction of whiteness in the representation of the human form as points of departure from which to consider the evolution and transformation of Enlightenment ideas about beauty, class, freedom, and progress. The series was awarded the first Photo Arts Council Prize (PAC) by LACMA and documented in a handsome monograph. It is Gonzales-Day’s continual engagement with history and his interest in peeling back the layers that makes his work so powerful and continuously relevant.

Gonzales-Day's work can be found in several prominent collections, including: Norton Museum of Art, Palm Beach, FL; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, CA; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; Santa Barbara Museum of Art; Minnesota Museum of American Art, St. Paul, MN; Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Michigan State University; Eileen Norton Harris Foundation; 21C Museum, Louisville, KY; Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH; Williamson Gallery, Scripps College; L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris; Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris; Pomona College Museum of Art; City of Los Angeles; and Metropolitan Transit Authority, Los Angeles.

The Erased Lynchings series (2002-ongoing) seeks to reveal that racially motivated lynching and vigilantism was a more widespread practice in the American West than was believed, and that in California, the majority of lynchings were perpetrated against Latinos, Native Americans, and Asian Americans; and that more Latinos were lynched in California than were persons of any other race or ethnicity.


The images derive from appropriated lynching postcards and archival materials in which the lynch victim and the ropes have all been removed; a conceptual gesture intended to direct the viewers attention, not upon the lifeless body of lynch victim, but upon the mechanisms of lynching themselves: the crowd, the spectacle, the photographer, and even consider the impact of flash photography upon this dismal past. The perpetrators, if 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. 


These absences or empty spaces become emblematic of the forgotten history made all the more palpable in light of the recent events surrounding the resurgence of the noose as means of intimidation and instilling fear everywhere from the workplace to the schoolyard. Image from the series were also incorporated in Gonzales-Day's Pulitzer Prize nominated monograph, Lynching in the West: 1850-1935 (Duke, 2006) which documented, for the first time, the full impact of lynching on Latino, Asian, and Native American communities. In addition to the better known cases involving the lynching of Blacks and Whites both in the west and nationwide.

 

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