NARRATOR: This painting of Malcolm X comes from Ligon’s Coloring series, which grew out of a group of workshops he conducted with children at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Ligon asked the children to color pictures from 1970s-era coloring books. Glenn Ligon:
GLENNLIGON: I decided to make a body of work using these images because they had such a specific political agenda behind them. They were kids’ coloring books meant to normalize images of black Americans, to make them part of history. But for a three year old, none of that matters. And what was interesting about making the work was the irreverence with which the kids approached these images. So a little kid can take an image of Malcolm X, and put lipstick and blush and eye shadow on him. For an adult, this is a transgression. For a kid, this is just normal.
I took the images from the coloring books and silkscreened them onto large canvases, and then I hand-colored in the images using the kids’ drawings as the basis for my images.
NARRATOR: Director of the Studio Museum, Thelma Golden:
THELMAGOLDEN: He committed to himself to use these drawings made by the children and then reproduce them, faithfully, as paintings. So in some cases, what you get, are these images that now have huge historic import but are treated in a way that seems to belie that importance. What’s at heart here was Glenn’s idea of trying, as he does in all his work, to make sense of these images. So these works remain complicated, interesting, engaging and perhaps, to some, enraging.