Pouring out rememberance

Angela Davis (1971); artist Gerald Williams

I enjoyed seeing the painting of Angela Davis on my most recent visit to the de Young Museum last summer. I still remember seeing her on the television news as a child, although I was then too young to understand the reasons behind her activism. Although some of these works of art are very difficult to look at and think about, I think that for our own sake and that of others it’s vital that we can’t be afraid to push through our discomfort and face the reality of our common past.

The Hanging Tree (1996); artist Joe Minter

The title of this work references the trees that white Americans used to hang, torture, and kill Black men, women, and children throughout the United States, particularly in the South, from the late nineteenth to twentieth centuries. Between 1877 and 1950, white Americans lynched 326 Black individuals in Joe Minter’s native Alabama. The Ku Klux Klan’s 1981 lynching of Michael McDonald, the last recorded in the United States, also took place in Alabama.

In this sculpture, abstract steel rods suggest human bodies suspended from a treelike base. The chains evoke the subjugation of both the slavery system and racism. The subject resonates with that of “Strange Fruit,” a poem about lynching recorded as a song by Billie Holiday in 1939. Painting a horrific and haunting scene, the lyrics recount: “Southern trees bear strange fruit/Blood on the leaves and blood on the root/Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze/Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.”

Diaspora’s Spirit (1996); artist Betye Saar

Leave a Reply