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