Ken Gonzales-Day is an interdisciplinary artist whose practice considers the historical construction of race. He supplements his photographs with research and writing that engage critically with history, art history, and Western conventions of race, blending historical tragedies with current events. Using photography and video, he explores trauma and resistance as experienced and embodied by racially oppressed populations in the U.S.
Shadowlands is a concise survey of the artist’s career, including works from the Erased Lynching, Searching for California Hang Trees, and Run Up series. His most recent work draws parallels between historical lynchings and high profile cases of police brutality affecting communities of color today. The core of the Run Up series is a cinematic restaging of the 1920 lynching of Charles Valento. Utilizing details drawn from the coroner’s report and his own archival research, Gonzales-Day chose to focus on this particular event in order to draw attention to the police presence at the scene that tacitly condoned the extralegal violence.
A survey of Gonzales-Day’s work brings up one of his most poignant questions: What is the difference between collective resistance and racially motivated violence? It is a question being asked after recent tragic events in cities around the country, such as Ferguson and Los Angeles, as well as St. Paul and Minneapolis. By presenting historical occurrences in conjunction with contemporary events Gonzales-Day collapses the historical distance and exposes the unchanging reality of racialized violence in the United States. Exploring the dichotomy between presence and absence, Gonzales-Day draws attention to the selective vision of American history and the perception of people of color as expendable. He combines scholarly research and a photo-journalistic sensibility with rich aesthetics to create jarringly haunting portraits of historical trauma present in both the people and the land of the United States.