America Is Hard to See

Solo en Inglès

Kids can listen and learn from this audio guide highlighting selected works in America Is Hard to See.

This painting has three parts. In the middle, there’s a plant. The artist, Malcom Bailey, has painted it very straightforwardly—like a scientific diagram. It seems kind of humble, and ordinary.

Now look at the other two shapes. They’re made to represent old-fashioned sailing ships. Look closely. What do you see? There are many, many human forms—almost like paper dolls. These images were based on diagrams of ships used to transport human cargo from Africa to the United States during the 1800s—showing the way people were packed in like sardines, hardly able to move or breathe. The original diagrams were made by abolitionist activists who wanted to end slavery, and thought everyone should know the horrible conditions slaves suffered.

Now look again at the plant: it’s cotton, the main crop that slaves were brought to the United States to harvest. What do you think of it now that you know the whole picture? 


Malcolm Bailey (1947–2011). _Untitled, 1969_, 1969. Acrylic on composition board, 48 × 71 15/16 in. (121.9 × 182.7 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Larry Aldrich Foundation Fund 69.77