Glenn Ligon has gained renown for a body of artworks that challenge entrenched conceptions of race, gender, and sexuality. Though he employs many mediums, he is perhaps best known for his text paintings that reproduce quotations from a range of authors and other public figures, including James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Pryor, and Gertrude Stein.
The print seen here is related to a project Ligon undertook during a residency at Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center in 1999–2000. The artist began by copying pages from Afrocentric coloring books, printed by Johnson Publishing Company (the former publisher of Ebony and Jet) and other firms during the 1960s and ’70s, that bore images of icons like Malcolm X and Harriet Tubman as well as of Black characters performing everyday activities. He then distributed these materials to children at local daycare centers—orchestrating a meeting between artifacts created in the wake of the American civil rights movement and an audience only beginning to gain historical and political awareness—who added color to the line drawings. Subsequently, Ligon selected and enlarged examples from this collaboration in a series of paintings titled Coloring.