Lorna Simpson began to create text-and-image works in the mid-1980s in response to the assumptions about race, culture, and gender that viewers made when encountering her photographs in galleries and museums. By combining words with faceless portraits or photographs of body parts, Simpson calls our attention to the unconscious ways in which people are classified based on physical and cultural attributes.
In ID, Simpson mounts a plaque engraved with the word “identity” over the photograph of a woman with her back turned to the camera, and another bearing the word “identify” below the image of what appears to be a section of her hair. Just one letter different, the two words cue a process of racial recognition and naming. The alignment of these words with the images conveys the commonplace and racially motivated act of drawing conclusions about black women from visual cues such as hair or skin color.
This work augments the ICA/Boston’s strong and expanding collection of photography, which also includes Simpson’s May June July August ’57/09, 2009. The ICA holds a number of works that deal with issues of race and racism, by artists such as Ragnar Kjartansson, Glenn Ligon, and Kerry James Marshall. These works examine the complexity of identity, particularly in relation to racial stereotyping in the United States.