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Kerry James Marshall, Great America, 1994, acrylic and collage on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of the Collectors Committee

Great America, Marshall

This painting reimagines a boat ride into a haunted tunnel at an amusement park as the Middle Passage—the forced journey of slaves from Africa to the Americas. What might in other hands be a work of heavy irony becomes instead a delicate interweaving of the histories of painting and race. The canvas, which is stretched directly onto the wall, creates a screen or backdrop onto which viewers project their own associations triggered by the powerful imagery.