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Intersecting Identities

Artists often address their multiple, intersecting identities in a work of art.

Untitled from Runaways

Glenn Ligon
(American, born 1960)

1993. One from a portfolio of ten lithographs, composition (irreg.): 12 9/16 x 8 15/16" (31.9 x 22.7 cm); sheet: 16 x 12" (40.7 x 30.5 cm)

The Runaways is a series of ten lithographs based on nineteenth-century advertisements published by slave owners to locate runaway slaves. Ligon asked friends to write descriptions of him as if they were reporting a missing person to the police. He then rendered the text in typography that mimicked the original ads and paired them with drawings from newspapers and anti-slavery pamphlets of the time. Ligon explained, “‘Runaways is broadly about how an individual’s identity is inextricable from the way one is positioned in the culture, from the ways people see you, from historical and political contexts.”1

Ligon was surprised to find that the descriptions his friends wrote were similar to those from the slave ads. Critics have also commented on how the texts read like accounts of criminal suspects, perhaps a critique of racial profiling by law enforcement. The texts from these two lithographs read:

 RAN AWAY, Glenn, a black male, 5’8”, very short hair cut, nearly completely shaved, stocky build, 155–165 lbs., medium complexion (not “light skinned,” not “dark skinned,” slightly orange). Wearing faded blue jeans, short sleeve button-down 50’s style shirt, nice glasses (small, oval shaped), no socks. Very articulate, seemingly well educated, does not look at you straight in the eye when talking to you. He’s socially very adept, yet, paradoxically, he’s somewhat of a loner.

RAN AWAY, a man named Glenn, five feet eight inches high, medium-brown skin, black-framed semi-cat-eyed glasses, close-cropped hair. Grey shirt, watch on left hand. Black shorts, black socks and black shoes. Distinguished-looking.

Interview between Thelma Golden and Glenn Ligon, conducted in the artist’s home in, July 11, 1997. Harn Museum of Art, Gainesville, Florida.

A work of art made with a pencil, pen, crayon, charcoal, or other implements, often consisting of lines and marks (noun); the act of producing a picture with pencil, pen, crayon, charcoal, or other implements (verb, gerund).

The art and technique of designing and/or arranging type letters, numbers, and punctuation marks, and of printing from them.

A printmaking technique that involves drawing with greasy crayons or a liquid called tusche, on a polished slab of limestone; aluminum plates, which are less cumbersome to handle, may also be used. The term is derived from the Greek words for stone (litho) and drawing (graph). When the greasy image is ready to be printed, a chemical mixture is applied across the surface of the stone or plate in order to securely bond it. This surface is then dampened with water, which adheres only to the blank, non-greasy areas. Oily printer’s ink, applied with a roller, sticks to the greasy imagery and not to areas protected by the film of water. Damp paper is placed on top of this surface and run through a press to transfer the image. In addition to the traditional method described here, other types of lithography include offset lithography, photolithography, and transfer lithography.