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Lynching Tree (2013)

lynching_tree.jpg

Steve McQueen
Lynching Tree, 2013
Light box with colour transparency
85.4 × 105 × 13 cm

Steve McQueen’s most recent work, “Lynching Tree” (2013), created especially for the exhibition in Basel, pictures a site that testifies to an odious past. It shows a tree near New Orleans that once served as a gallows for slaves. The ground around the tree is filled with the graves of the lynched victims. This work is related to the artist's latest film production, “Twelve Years a Slave,” scheduled for release in movie theaters this fall. As in his video and film installations, McQueen’s camerawork in his feature films distills narrative sequences into individual images of overpowering intensity. Conversely, “Lynching Tree” is a photographic still that eloquently renders an entire narrative. McQueen’s film is based on a true story told in the eponymous book by Solomon Northup, a free-born citizen of New York, who was kidnapped in 1841 because of his skin color and eventually sold into slavery at a cotton plantation in Louisiana. After twelve years of forced labor and physical abuse, he regained his freedom by legal decree and was reunited with his family. Obviously, “Lynching Tree” does not depict this, but knowledge of it opens a curtain to reveal the inconceivable, inscrutable context underlying an image that seems so unprepossessing at first sight.