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I Am Not A Man was performed in 2009 on the streets of Harlem. Scott, dressed like a Civil Rights protester, walked for an hour wearing an iconic but altered sign that read “I AM NOT A MAN.” His performance appropriates but inverts the message “I AM A MAN” first carried by Memphis sanitation workers while on strike in 1968. Pointing to the importance of Civil Rights protests as well as to their limitations, Scott was challenging the idea that the United States had entered a post-racial period after the election of Barack Obama. Intentionally stumbling and even losing his pants at one point during the performance, Scott staged these humiliating scenes to call attention to the ongoing negation of Black lives in American society. The sign and his actions elicited a spectrum of reactions from passersby, including two police officers, as seen in the photograph. The work resonates with several pieces in the National Gallery’s collection, including Glenn Ligon’s 1988 painting Untitled (I Am A Man) and press photographs of the sanitation strike.

Part of two photographs acquired by the National Gallery of Art by the multimedia artist Dread Scott (b. 1965), whose work engages with some of the most significant social questions of our time. Made possible through a generous gift of funds by Michael Findlay and Victoria Findlay Wolfe, I Am Not A Man (2009) and On the Impossibility of Freedom in a Country Founded on Slavery and Genocide (2014) depict key moments from two of Scott’s performances that confront the legacy of racism in the United States. These pictures, the first works by the artist to enter the collection, reflect not only Scott’s desire to push formal and conceptual boundaries, but also his deep awareness of how history informs the present. His compelling images refer to seminal events from the Civil Rights Movement and promote critical reflection on contemporary events.


Dread Scott, New York; NGA purchase (through (Cristin Tierney Gallery, New York), 2023.

Associated Names

Cristin Tierney Gallery

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