Glenn Ligon’s Prisoner of Love #1

A tall, narrow painting of black text on an off-white background that is clear and legible at the top but becomes layered and muddled towards the bottom; the text reads “We are the ink that gives the white page a meaning” and repeats down the painting
Glenn Ligon, Prisoner of Love #1, 1992, Carnegie Museum of Art

For today’s Favorite Friday, we are highlighting Glenn Ligon’s Prisoner of Love #1. His practice combines photography, painting, and printmaking to explore issues of race, sexuality, identity, and language. Our Margaret Powell Curatorial Fellow, Kiki Teshome, has shared some thoughts about why this work stands out to her.

“The first time I encountered Ligon’s Prisoner of Love #1, I was transfixed. Borrowing a line from French writer Jean Genet’s observations of African Americans in his 1968 autobiography, the words “We are the ink that gives the white page a meaning” are stenciled in black oil repeatedly until the phrase blurs completely, rendering the text barely legible.

The painting’s texture conveys the discomfort of witnessing this moment of protest as an opportunity for the country to confront its history through the spectacle of Black pain. The longer I sit with the work, however, the more I feel challenged to not only think of our experiences in terms of suffering, but to also remember the artistic and cultural contributions that Black people have created in our diverse communities. As the bottom of the painting becomes crowded and difficult to parse, I feel encouraged to take up my own “ink” and imagine new ways to build the future.”