Parallels: Lupe Fiasco x Glenn Ligon

There's currently an exhibit at the Whitney Museum showcasing some of the works of visual artist Glenn Ligon. Our friend Janine Simon checked it out and drew some parallels between the works of the artist and Lupe Fiasco's Lasers, check out her article below:

When artists explore basic notions of truth, albeit through different mediums and personal experiences, their work begins to look very similar. Bronx-born visual artist Glenn Ligon and Lupe Fiasco are both artists of the highbrow caliber. One’s work hangs on the walls of museums and the other’s work takes the form of hip-hop music.

Ligon’s retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Glenn Ligon: AMERICA, grapples with the ideas of race, gender, and identity along the historical stream of the American experience. The exhibition features around a hundred works but there are a few pieces in particular that are consistent with some of the themes in Fiasco’s latest album Lasers.

The thematic consistencies between the exhibit and album illustrate an interesting portrait of American living. When paying attention to the details in each work it becomes clear how arduous a task it is to shine a light on the injustices of the human experience.

And although speaking true and walking straight may seem like a solitary act, when people take the right steps their paths will always cross with other like-minded individuals.

The intersection of Ligon and Fiasco’s work exists in a few key pieces that are on view at the Whitney Museum. The entry point of the dialogue between the two begins with Ligon’s neon wall reliefs, especially “Ruckenfigur”, the installation that gives the impression that each letter of the word America is reflected in a mirror image.

But the symmetrical letters that form the words I AM are consistent regardless of the perspective. The word play in this installation reminds me of the usage of the anarchy symbol, also exhibited in a neon wall relief, on the Lasers album cover. A sight change in the way you look at a word can change its entire meaning.

Text, words and what they symbolize are just as important in Ligon’s work as is the choice of paint color. A homie who accompanied me to the museum said, “Lupe is the antithesis to everything in Hip-Hop right now.” When I asked him to elaborate he concluded that, “He puts forth so much effort in crafting his words.”

With the careful selection of passages from essays of Zora Neale Hurston’s and James Baldwin, Ligon takes time to consider what words he uses on the canvas pieces in the exhibition. When viewing this part of the exhibit, in a white room full of white canvases with bold black words painted on them, museum patrons begin to pick up on a mixture of sounds coming in from the other room.

The next part of the exhibit includes amazing conceptual pieces, four large wooden crates with hidden audio recordings within them. As the viewers get closer to the boxes they can begin to decipher the different songs playing from within each box, Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”, KRS-1’s “Sound of Da Police”, etc. The idea of subversive music being contained reminded me of the constraints of the music industry that delayed the release of Lasers for so long.

The connections between the artists, either real or imagined, illustrate how easy it is to connect the dots between different points of truth. After leaving the museum, my homie and I walked two blocks west to Central Park.

I watched the streaks of white fluorescent light from the street lamps swim on top of the dark surface of the lake. My friend handed me his iPod, “Here is a new track. I’m really working more on my storytelling skills…” I nodded and plugged the headphones into my ears and thought well shit, if you speaking the truth I am sure that I can rock to it.


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