Glenn Ligon, ‘Runaways ’, 1993, Bowdoin College Museum of Art
Glenn Ligon, ‘Runaways ’, 1993, Bowdoin College Museum of Art
Glenn Ligon, ‘Runaways ’, 1993, Bowdoin College Museum of Art
Glenn Ligon, ‘Runaways ’, 1993, Bowdoin College Museum of Art
Glenn Ligon, ‘Runaways ’, 1993, Bowdoin College Museum of Art
Glenn Ligon, ‘Runaways ’, 1993, Bowdoin College Museum of Art
Glenn Ligon, ‘Runaways ’, 1993, Bowdoin College Museum of Art
Glenn Ligon, ‘Runaways ’, 1993, Bowdoin College Museum of Art
Glenn Ligon, ‘Runaways ’, 1993, Bowdoin College Museum of Art
Glenn Ligon, ‘Runaways ’, 1993, Bowdoin College Museum of Art

The relationship between the languages of words and images plays a key role in the artist’s lithographic series Runaways. To create the cycle, Ligon asked a series of friends to create descriptions by which others might recognize him, and then matched these “word portraits” with nineteenth-century emblems depicting escaped slaves. The powerful disjunctions that resulted provoke questions concerning the nature of our knowledge and understanding of one another, suggesting the inadequacy of linguistic description and other systems of representation. By invoking the history of slavery, Ligon examines the larger social and historical forces that shape personal identity, interrogating our ability to overcome, whether as subjects or observers, the perceptions and roles these may reinforce.

Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine, museum purchase, Lloyd O. and Marjorie Strong Coulter Fund

About Glenn Ligon

Born and raised in the Bronx, Glenn Ligon grew up taking art classes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art while learning about identity politics through the racism and discrimination toward homosexuality that he encountered in New York. He combines this formal art education and complex personal history to create emotionally charged works that convey challenging messages. In his 1993 Whitney Biennial contribution, Notes on the Margin of the Black Book (1991–93), for example, Ligon paired images and text to satirically comment on literary and visual representations of the black male body. Whether constructed from neon lights, coal dust, glitter, paint, or photographs, Ligon’s work fluctuates between humor and startling honesty, reminding viewers that intolerance remains ubiquitous.

American, b. 1960, Bronx, New York, based in New York, New York