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Ken Gonzales-Day with his Erased Lynchings (2000-2020) at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. Credit Andrew Harnik, AP Photo.

Ken Gonzales-Day’s interdisciplinary and conceptually grounded photographic projects consider the history of photography, the construction of race, and the limits of representational systems. Gonzales-Day is a Getty scholar and a Terra Foundation and Smithsonian Museum fellow.  In 2018, he was the subject of a solo exhibition at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.  The Fletcher Jones Chair in Art at Scripps College and professor of art, Gonzales-Day’s exhaustive research and book Lynching in the West, 1850-1935 (2006) led to a re-evaluation of the history of lynching in this country. The book shed light on the little-known history of frontier justice and vigilantism and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. The Erased Lynchings series of photographs was a product of this research, which revealed that race was a contributing factor in California's own history of lynching and vigilantism, and through which he discovered that the majority of victims were Mexican or, like him, Mexican-American. Gonzales-Day takes the same scholarly approach to his ongoing Profiled series, which looks to the depiction of race and the construction of whiteness in the representation of the human form as points of departure from which to consider the evolution and transformation of Enlightenment ideas about beauty, class, freedom, and progress. The series was awarded the first Photo Arts Council Prize (PAC) by LACMA and documented in a handsome monograph. It is Gonzales-Day’s continual engagement with history and his interest in peeling back the layers that makes his work so powerful and continuously relevant.

Gonzales-Day's work can be found in prominent collections, including: J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA; Norton Museum of Art, Palm Beach, FL; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, CA; Santa Barbara Museum of Art; Minnesota Museum of American Art, St. Paul, MN; Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Michigan State University; Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH; Williamson Gallery, Scripps College; Middlebury College Museum of Art, Middlebury, VT; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris; Musee National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris; Pomona College Museum of Art; Eileen Norton Harris Foundation; 21C Museum Hotel, Louisville, KY; City of Los Angeles; and Metropolitan Transit Authority, Los Angeles, among others.

Ken Gonzales-Day This Day, 2013

Ken Gonzales-Day
This Day, 2013
LighJet print
30 x 60 in.
Edition of 5

Ken Gonzales-Day The Wonder Gaze, St. James Park, 2007-2013

Ken Gonzales-Day
The Wonder Gaze, St. James Park, 2007-2013
85 x 40 in.
Edition of 5

Ken Gonzales-Day Marietta, GA (Leo Frank), 1915,, 2013

Ken Gonzales-Day
Marietta, GA (Leo Frank), 1915,, 2013
36 x 46 in.
Edition of 5, 2 AP

Ken Gonzales-Day The Universal Photo Art Co., 2013

Ken Gonzales-Day
The Universal Photo Art Co., 2013
Inkjet print
44 x 82 in.
Edition of 5

The Erased Lynchings series (2002-ongoing) seeks to reveal that racially motivated lynching and vigilantism was a more widespread practice in the American West than was believed, and that in California, the majority of lynchings were perpetrated against Latinos, Native Americans, and Asian Americans; and that more Latinos were lynched in California than were persons of any other race or ethnicity.

The images derive from appropriated lynching postcards and archival materials in which the lynch victim and the ropes have all been removed; a conceptual gesture intended to direct the viewers attention, not upon the lifeless body of lynch victim, but upon the mechanisms of lynching themselves: the crowd, the spectacle, the photographer, and even consider the impact of flash photography upon this dismal past. The perpetrators, if present, remain fully visible, jeering, laughing, or pulling at the air in a deadly pantomime. As such, this series strives to make the invisible visible. 

These absences or empty spaces become emblematic of the forgotten history made all the more palpable in light of the recent events surrounding the resurgence of the noose as means of intimidation and instilling fear everywhere from the workplace to the schoolyard. Image from the series were also incorporated in Gonzales-Day's Pulitzer Prize nominated monograph, Lynching in the West: 1850-1935 (Duke, 2006) which documented, for the first time, the full impact of lynching on Latino, Asian, and Native American communities. In addition to the better known cases involving the lynching of Blacks and Whites both in the west and nationwide.


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