Glenn Ligon (b. 1960), A Loner, Shy and Sad, 1990–91. Oil on canvas, 32 × 22 1/8 × 1 1/2in. (81.3 × 56.2 × 3.8 cm). Promised gift of Emily Fisher Landau P.2010.190b. Photograph by Tim Nighswander/Imaging4Art
NARRATOR: Glenn Ligon describes a series of young men: Antron, age 15, is the son of a mechanic. Kevin dresses fashionably. Raymond is the class clown. Ligon stencils these words onto canvas, in some places allowing them to dissolve into black smudges—beautiful to look at but difficult to read. Several paintings feature ghostly heads floating up through the text. Ligon explores issues of identity throughout his work:
GLENNLIGON: In some ways, what we think of the self is a composite of other people’s ideas of who we are, and that there’s no such thing as a sort of standard version of one’s identity, that really, one’s identity is mirrored and reflected in how other people see you.
NARRATOR: These texts, excerpted from The New York Times, profile a group of African American youths accused of raping a woman in New York’s Central Park in 1989. The crime, known as the Central Park Jogger case, provoked media frenzy, public fear, and heated discussions about racism in the criminal justice system. The young men claimed that the police coerced their confessions but were tried and convicted in 1990—the same year that Ligon made these paintings. In 2002, DNA evidence linked another man to the crime, and the men described here were released from prison.