Vincent Valdez | The Strangest Fruit

David Winton Bell Gallery
Brown University

19 October - 8 December 2013

San Antonio-based artist Vincent Valdez is an accomplished draughtsperson in many mediums. Distinguished for their realism, his paintings and drawings are metaphorical critiques of social and political orders.

His most recent body of work, The Strangest Fruit, places realistic depictions of people known by the artist within an historical subject—the lynching of Latinos in Texas and the United States more broadly—metaphorically illustrating the persecution and oppression felt by contemporary Latinos in the United States. The series of large-scale, oil on canvas works the supposed throes and aftermath of a death by hanging. Slightly larger than life-size, the figures float, decontextualized, on a white background. The ropes that bind them are no longer visible, and the composition becomes an ambiguous scene between hanging and ascension.

Occurring over a period of nearly one hundred years between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, the lynching of Latinos was often overlooked by mainstream American society, media and history. The events were recorded, however, in local community leaflets and in folk ballads (corridos). Here, Valdez presents a special installation of these new works as an attempt to reconcile his style of metaphorical realism with the unwritten histories of these lynchings and the ongoing struggles and injustices experienced by contemporary Latinos in the United States.

At the far end of the gallery, Valdez presents an adapted version of the poem "Strange Fruit" by Abel Meeropol (aka Lewis Allan) written and performed in the mid-to-late 1930s as a protest song that exposed racism and the lynching of African Americans in the United States, capturing popular imagination through recordings by singers such as Billie Holiday. The text stands as an transcribed corrido — a ballad — inscribing the history of Latino lynching onto the wall of the gallery. The last line "…here is a strange and bitter crop" echoes amongst the pained and contorted figures, presenting them as subjective evidence of ongoing social and cultural oppression.

Installation Technicians
Cameron Shaw
Ian Budish

Design
Malcolm Greer and Associates

Exhibition site

Review by Anya Ventura

More about the artist →

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