Since the mid-1980s, Lorna Simpson has used photographs and language to make elegantly crafted artworks that raise issues about gender and race. By combining images with text, she asks us to contemplate racial stereotypes and gender inequities in our culture. Further, with a background in documentary photography, she also calls into question the "objectivity" of a photograph as well as hidden subtleties in the language we use. Yet, while Simpson addresses these complicated political and cultural issues in her work, she never allows the combination of text and image to be reduced to a simple message. Her art is poetic and metaphorical, never direct or didactic.
This untitled photograph is one of a series of twelve completed in the fall of 2001. It includes several almost identical photographic portraits of an anonymous African American woman accompanied by text and framed and matted in semi-translucent Plexiglas. The silhouettes evoke historical modes of portraiture, including oval-shaped Victorian daguerreotypes and a celebrated bust of the ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti. The arrangement of the images in repetitive rows calls to mind a cinematic storyboard or filmstrip. The text was selected from titles of paintings and films in which Africans or African Americans are significant or involved in some way. Simpson’s background in art history, experimental film, and films of the fifties, sixties, and seventies provided rich source material for the series.
Object label from a 2007 installation