Glenn Ligon
American, born 1960
Stranger in the Village #13

Enamel, oil and acrylic paint, gesso and coal dust on canvas
182.9 x 335.3 cm (72 x 132 in.)
Gift of The Peter Norton Family Foundation, 1999.303

Glenn Ligon is best known for text-based paintings that engage themes of authorship, history, and identity. Borrowing from writers such as Ralph Ellison and Zora Neale Hurston, Ligon systematically stencils quotations across his canvases. Stranger in the Village #13 is part of a series that the artist began in 1997 in which he rendered passages from James Baldwin's 1953 essay of the same title in nearly illegible black paint. In response to Baldwin's experience as an African American living in a remote village in Switzerland, Ligon commented, "The gravity and weight and panoramic nature of that work inspired me . . . and the addition of the coal dust seemed to me to do that because it literally bulked up the text." Allowing the words to degrade as part of his process, Ligon incorporated Baldwin's meditations on colonialism, race, and national identity while addressing language's inability to fully articulate experience.

Read passages from Baldwin’s "Stranger in the Village."