National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Untitled: Four Etchings [A] Glenn Ligon (artist)
American, born 1960
Greg Burnet (printer)
Australian, born 1953
Max Protetch Gallery (publisher)
Untitled: Four Etchings [A], 1992
softground etching, aquatint, spitbite, and sugarlift aquatint in black on Rives BFK paper
plate: 59.7 x 40 cm (23 1/2 x 15 3/4 in.) sheet: 63.8 x 44.1 cm (25 1/8 x 17 3/8 in.)
Gift of Werner H. and Sarah-Ann Kramarsky and the Collectors Committee Fund
2004.65.1.1
Not on View
From the Tour: African American Artists: Collection Highlights
Object 4 of 22

African-American artists working in the 1980s and 1990s often focused on black identity as culturally and socially constructed. Artists including Glenn Ligon moved from using the black figure to employing text as a way to explore perceptions and understandings of race. In Untitled: Four Etchings [A–D], Ligon quotes from Zora Neale Hurston's essay "How It Feels to Be Colored Me" (1928) and Ralph Ellison's novel Invisible Man (1952). Selections from both literary works are written in the first person, often repeating the word "I." In the process of deciphering the text, the viewer becomes the "I" and thus inhabits the person questioning himself/herself and his/her identity.

Untitled: Four Etchings [A] (above) and [B] repeat, over and over, sentences from Hurston's essay: "I do not always feel colored" [A] and "I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background" [B]. As the viewer reads, the texts become increasingly difficult to decipher. Smudged and broken type interferes with legibility, suggesting the viewer's literal and intellectual struggle to read the sentence and understand its implications.

Etchings [C] and [D], both black type on black paper, also make the reader work to comprehend the meaning. Their nearly identical texts taken from Ellison's monumental novel are almost indiscernible—"invisible" like the story's protagonist.

Text [C]:
I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus side-shows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only themselves, or figments of their imagina-

Text [D] is the same, except that it ends:
...figments of their imagination—indeed everything

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