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On the Impossibility of Freedom in a Country Founded on Slavery and Genocide was taken during a performance where Scott attempted to walk forward while being battered by the intense spray from a fire hose. Alluding to the 1963 Civil Rights struggle in Birmingham, Alabama, where high-pressure water jets were used against nonviolent protesters and bystanders, Scott’s actions acknowledge all ongoing struggles toward justice and equality. In 2014 the protests in response to the death of Michael Brown at the hands of Ferguson, Missouri, police were specifically on his mind. This photograph captures the artist with his hands up protectively, bracing himself as he endures being sprayed by local firemen who agreed to participate in the event. Scott also uses the term genocide in the artwork’s title, bringing attention to the ongoing struggles for Indigenous sovereignty and the country’s brutal history of colonial settlement.

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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