Glenn Ligon, Untitled (I Am a Man), 1988


NARRATOR: In 1968, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, hundreds of black sanitation workers in Memphis went on strike. Famously, they carried signs reading, “I AM A MAN.” Working twenty years later, Ligon almost exactly replicated those signs in this painting.

We see here a young artist at once working through the legacy of the civil rights movement and boldly declaring that he has found his artistic voice: this was one of Ligon’s earliest paintings to include appropriated text, an exploration that continues to this day.

To hear Glenn Ligon discuss the painting’s cracked surface, press play:

Glenn Ligon (b. 1960), _Untitled (I Am a Man)_, 1988. Oil and enamel on canvas. 40 x 25 in. (101.6 x 63.5 cm). Collection of the artist © Glenn Ligon; photograph by Ronald Amstutz