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Lorna Simpson

2 Tracks


Lorna Simpson, 2 Tracks, 1990  91.59.4a-e
Lorna Simpson, 2 Tracks, 1990. Three gelatin silver prints and two plastic plaques, 48 7/8 × 62 9/16 × 1 11/16 in. (124.1 × 158.9 × 4.3 cm) overall. Edition no. 4/4. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Raymond J. Learsy and Gabriella De Ferrari  91.59.4a-e For Teachers
© Lorna Simpson

about this work

Lorna Simpson’s staged photographs combine image and text, generating meaning indirectly through word play and addressing questions of identity yet refusing to take any straightforward position on race, class, or gender. 2 Tracks is an anonymous portrait; in a technique Simpson has used in much of her work, its closely shorn, female subject faces away from the camera. The photograph is flanked on either side by an image of a single black braid. Two accompanying plaques, reading “back” and “track” have multiple valences, alluding at once to the photographs’ literal subjects, general ideas of progress and struggle, and the specific themes of racism and regression. Deftly eluding a simplistic historical reading, Simpson’s work instead prompts the viewer to fill in the gaps between text and image. As in the tradition of Conceptual art from which the artist emerges, viewers are encouraged to participate in the creation and completion of the work’s meaning. 

look closer

Describe what you see in this work.

Why do you think the artist chose to show this woman’s back? 

Do you think the braids (on the sides of the main picture) belong to her? Why or why not? 

How might the words “BACK” and “TRACK” relate to the photograph? 

If this woman could turn around and speak to you, what do you think she might say?

What would you say to her? 


Lorna Simpson, 2 Tracks, 1990  91.59.4a-e For Teachers

Lorna Simpson has used portraiture, biography, text, and metaphor to examine the construction of identity. Simpson juxtaposes carefully chosen pictures and words to question what people know and understand about African American history and experience. She asks the viewer to think about the relationship between photographs and text. In 2 Tracks, it is hard to tell very much about the young woman who faces away from the camera.

Discuss this portrait as a class. Why would Simpson choose to show this woman’s back, and not her face? How might the words BACK and TRACK relate to the photograph? If this woman could turn around and speak to you, what do you think she might say? What would you say to her?

Ask students to find a partner and  have them take pictures of each other from behind, so that their face doesn’t show. Have them each write two words that describe their ‘back’ portrait. Discuss these images and words as a class. What can clothes, hair, and surroundings tell you about a person? How do you make those judgments or assessments? What might be accurate, and what might be misleading?

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