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Photo: Paul Mpagi Sepuya

Artist Glenn Ligon is best known for intertextual works that re-present American history and literature, in particular narratives of slavery and civil rights, for contemporary audiences. His work engages a powerful mix of racial and gender-oriented struggles for the self, leading viewers to reconsider problems inherent in representation. Untitled (I Am a Man) is just such a representation—a signifier—of the actual signs carried by 1,300 striking African American sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, made famous in Ernest Withers's 1968 photographs. As the first object in which Ligon used a particular text, Untitled (I Am a Man) is his most important and iconic work and his first painting to join the Gallery’s collection. His other works at the Gallery include a suite of etchings, a print portfolio, a neon sculpture, and two self-portraits that were recently conveyed from the Corcoran Collection. For this conversation, Ligon and Gregg Bordowitz discuss Untitled (I Am a Man), the subject of a new book by Bordowitz in Afterall’s One Work series.