20.10.21 - Glenn Ligon is one of New York Times' 2021 'The Greats'

Glenn Ligon is featured in the 2021 New York Times’ T Magazine The Greats issue.


“In 1996, the artist Glenn Ligon made his first “Stranger in the Village” painting, stenciling fragments of James Baldwin’s 1953 essay on a gessoed canvas with oil stick, black on black: a visual play on Baldwin’s words, the blackness literally hard to read. The essay, one of the writer’s most famous, recounts his experiences at age 27 in the Swiss hamlet of Leukerbad, where he had been staying with his boyfriend while finishing his first novel. “It did not occur to me — possibly because I am an American — that there could be people anywhere who had never seen a Negro,” he writes. The alienation Baldwin evokes is total, the simple racism of the village becoming a lens through which he sees with fresh clarity the more elaborated and systematized version of it back home. “In the beginning, it was not only wanting to be with Baldwin but wanting to be Baldwin,” says Ligon.


“This intense identification with his queerness, with his Blackness, but also his engagement with what it means to live in America. In some ways it’s less about the specifics of the words, because I’d always taken his words and made them abstract.” Now that Ligon is 61 and one of the most celebrated artists of our time, he says it took him this long to be able to confront the text of “Stranger in the Village” in its entirety. Over the years, Ligon has often been asked the question of whether he considers himself “a political artist” — which now seems preposterously naïve in its presumption of a neutral ground. “When I first started showing in the ’90s,” he says, people would say, “‘Oh, your work is about your Black identity.’ And I was like, ‘That’s not a well that you just dip in and drink from.’”



Further information