Runaways [3 of 10]
Image: 16 x 12 in.
Sheet: 16 x 12 in.
l.l. along bottom edge of sheet in graphite: 23/45
l.r. along bottom edge of sheet in graphite: Glenn Ligon [artist's hand] '93
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Purchase with funds provided by the Cynthia Brants Trust
© 1993 Glenn Ligon
Does the way other people describe us reveal anything about who we are? Ligon asked ten of his friends to describe him as if they were filling out a missing-persons report. What they wrote struck him as eerie reminders of the advertisements nineteenth-century slave owners placed to find runaways. He paired the text with images he borrowed from antislavery pamphlets and historical newspapers to emphasize the lasting impact of the Civil War on American society.
He brings to our attention that even with extensive visual and written information, we cannot fully know a person. Runaways shows us how the way we perceive ourselves and others varies widely and often includes racial, class, and social markers that are more generalized than individual.
What connections exist between text and image?
What are the limitations of a physical description of a person? What are the benefits of such a description?
How can the language you hear used to describe someone impact your opinion of that person?
What is an avatar? Why might someone choose to create or adopt an avatar to represent themselves?
Before addressing the works of art, have students create a description of themselves that could be used to identify them in a crowded room by someone who had never met them. The description should be about three to four sentences long. Have one or two students read their descriptions. After looking at and discussing the Ligon images, ask students how they might extend their description to give a fuller, more precise sense of themselves, and have them add an avatar.
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