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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.

Ken Gonzales-Day The Unresolved Case of Spanish Charlie, 2014

Ken Gonzales-Day
The Unresolved Case of Spanish Charlie, 2014
C-print
22 x 60 in.

Run Up (2014) is the latest chapter in Ken Gonzales-Day’s acclaimed Erased Lynchings series, selections of which have been acquired by the Smithsonian Institution and the Norton Museum of Art and have also been exhibited internationally in museums and galleries in Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, London, Paris, Vienna, Mexico City, Guadalajara, Medellín, Bogota, among others. 

Based on Gonzales-Day’s 2006 Pulitzer prize-nominated publication Lynching in the West: 1850-1935 (Duke University Press), this new film and photographic series evoke an episode from the little known history of lynching in California. The primary difference between this project and conventional narrative depictions of lynching and vigilantism previously found in films ranging from Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns to Steve McQueen’s recent 12 Years a Slave, is that in this version, the victim’s body will not be visible in the final moments of the scene (either through special effects or editing).

The absence of the lynching victim in this film, and accompanying photographic series, intentionally seeks to disrupt the normative power of racial victimization, raise awareness about America’s other lynching victims (Asians, Latinos, and Native Americans) and perhaps reflect on the broader question of capital punishment currently taking place in the United States. 

The main characters in Run Up are two mob leaders, three men with ropes, an elegant couple that passes by, four primary onlookers, and several Latina and black female onlookers (whose poses are based on sculptural depiction of Three Graces found in the Gypsothèque du Musée de Louvre). The racially diverse mob is meant to suggest this complexity and to reflect on many of California’s own cases which often included Asians, Latinos, European Americans, Europeans, and African Americans—as is documented in one non-California case. While the project takes its inspiration from California’s little known history of lynching, it also reaches beyond its historical source material in order to help address not only prison reform in the U.S., but a wide range of contemporary conflicts arising from social, political, and ethnic disparities nationally and even globally, as found in the Middle East, former Soviet Union, and Africa, today

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