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Glenn Ligon

Updated: Mar 26, 2019

Artist 91 Glenn Ligon Post-Blackness Conceptual Art

Glenn Ligon (born 1960) is an American conceptual artist whose work explores race, language, desire, sexuality, and identity.

His paintings and sculptures examine cultural and social identity through found sources to reveal the ways in which the history of slavery, the civil rights movement, and sexual politics inform our understanding of American society.

Based in New York City, Ligon engages in intertextuality with visual arts, literature, and history, as well as his own experiences as an African American and as a gay man living in the U.S. He is noted as one of the originators of the term Post-Blackness.

The term "Post-blackness" was coined during the 1990s by Thelma Golden, director of the Studio Museum of Harlem and the conceptual artist Glenn Ligon.

It defines the 21st century as the era of Post-Blackness. The term is used to describe “the liberating value in tossing off the immense burden of race-wide representation, the idea that everything they do must speak to or for or about the entire race."

It suggests that society has reached a place where "black" and "black culture" can no longer be defined by broad-sweeping social constructs. It supports this position by citing the existence of people such as Obama and Oprah Winfrey, suggesting "Blackness may be an important part of them, but that Blackness does not dominate their persona."

This philosophical movement attempts to reconcile the American understanding of race with the lived experiences of African Americans in the late 20th and early 21st century.

The “black” in post-black refers to a construction of what blackness is, and “post-black” is a means for redefining the parameters of blackness.

“If post-black represents a threat, it is to the hegemony of hetero-patriarchal expressions of blackness that, in their essentialist logics and racial nostalgia, relegate African-American identity to a series of limiting scripts,” Derek Conrad Murray states. He specializes in African-American/African Diaspora art and culture. He does not focus on blackness as race, but more so as a racial, social construct.

This notion challenges old expressions of racial constructs and opens a dialogue for growth. It’s a theory that attempts to unpack the conceptual and aesthetic specificities of post-Civil Rights visual artists, who are creatively reimagining the visual rhetorics of blackness. It connects to today’s artist by his struggling to place his Queer identity into a racial construct.

I personally feel that we are still in a world where celebrating “blackness” is extremely vital and important. I don’t think we’ve reached a place of “post” yet. But it’s important to document and learn all sides of artistic thought. I think by redefining the structure and limitations the word “blackness” can be changed and must never be vilified.


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