Lorna Simpson - American Federation of Arts


Lorna Simpson - American Federation of Arts

American Federation of Arts

Lorna Simpson

A Resource for Educators

Lorna Simpson

A Resource for Educators

American Federation of Arts

© 2006 American Federation of Arts

American Federation of Arts

41 East 65th Street

New York, NY 10021-6594



Exhibition Itinerary to Date

Museum of Contemporary Art

Los Angeles

April 16–July 10, 2006

Miami Art Museum

October 13, 2006–January 21, 2007

Whitney Museum of American Art

New York

February 8–May 6, 2007

Kalamazoo Institute of Arts

Kalamazoo, Michigan

May 25–August 19, 2007

Gibbes Museum of Art

Charleston, South Carolina

September 7–December 2, 2007

Please direct questions about these

materials to:

Suzanne Elder Burke

Director of Education

American Federation of Arts

212.988.7700 ext. 26


Design/Production: Susan E. Kelly

Front Cover: Lorna Simpson, Call Waiting,

1997 (pp. 30–32)

Back Cover: Lorna Simpson, Waterbearer,

1986 (pp. 18–19)

Lorna Simpson, the exhibition this resource accompanies, is organized

by the American Federation of Arts and made possible, in part, by grants

from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Peter Norton

Family Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Lily Auchin-

closs Foundation, Inc., the Martin Bucksbaum Family Foundation, Emily

Fisher Landau, and The Barbara Lee Family Foundation Fund at the Boston


The AFA is a nonprofit institution that organizes art exhibitions for presen-

tation in museums around the world, publishes exhibition catalogues, and

develops education programs.


About This Resource 4

Exhibition Overview 5

Artist Biography 6

Curriculum Connections 8

Discussion Questions and Activities 11

Selected Works of Art with

Discussion Questions and Activities 15

Glossary 36

Bibliography 38

Web Resources 41


Corridor (Phone), 2003

Digital chromatic print mounted to Plexiglas

27 X 72 inches

courtesy the artist and Sean Kelly Gallery,

new York

about thiS re Source

Art can be a great source of inspiration for students. Contemporary art,

in particular, shows students that artists often establish their own rules

for artmaking, creating works that encourage people to see and under-

stand the world around them in different ways. The aim of this resource is

to facilitate the process of looking at and understanding Lorna Simpson’s

work and to help teachers interpret the works in the exhibition. Teach-

ers may utilize these materials either in conjunction with a class visit to

the museum or independently. Suggested discussion questions focus on a

selection of works from the exhibition and offer ways of making them more

accessible to students. They are the first step toward engaging students,

getting them to look at and analyze art. Students should be encouraged

to make connections among various works of art; to establish links with

topics and concepts they are studying in school; and to express their ideas

about the works of art in this resource and about art in general. The dis-

cussion questions and classroom activities in this resource can be adapted

for use with junior high school, high school, or university level students.

Students should familiarize themselves with the words included in the

glossary (p. 36). These words are bolded when they appear for the first

time in the resource text.

This resource was prepared by Suzanne Elder Burke, Director of Education,

AFA. The information on individual works of art is based on the essay by

Okwui Enwezor in the exhibition catalogue Lorna Simpson (New York: AFA

in association with Abrams, 2006). The exhibition overview is based on

a text written by AFA Curator Yvette Y. Lee. The information on selected

works of art, curriculum connections, activities, discussion questions,

glossary, and bibliography were prepared by Ms. Elder Burke with the

assistance of AFA Education Interns Sarah Birnbaum and Paolo Magagnoli.

Michaelyn Mitchell, AFA Director of Publications and Design, edited the

text and supervised design of the resource, with the assistance of Alec


e xhibition overvie w

One of the leading artists of her generation, Lorna Simpson first became well

known in the mid-1980s, confronting and challenging conventional views

toward gender, identity, culture, history, and memory with large-scale

photograph and text works that are formally elegant and subtly provoca-

tive. Her 1986 photograph-and-text piece Waterbearer employs a struc-

ture that would become a signature of much of her work—the pairing of a

partially obscured figure with suggestive fragments of text, a juxtaposition

that challenges the viewer’s expectations of narrative and identity. By the

mid-90s, Simpson began to concentrate on creating large multi-panel pho-

tographs printed on felt. These softly sensual images depict urban locales

as the site of public, yet unseen, couplings. More recently, the artist has

turned to creating moving images. Since 1997, Simpson’s work has shown

a renewed emphasis on the figure, with her film and video installations

often focusing on the figure as a moving image.

For more than two decades, Lorna Simpson has raised thought-provoking

questions about stereotypes and identity. Her attention to craft and picto-

rial richness seduces the viewer while the innovative juxtaposition of fig-

ure and gesture with text and narrative extends the experience of her work

beyond visual fulfillment into genuine self-reflection.

Simpson has participated in many solo and group exhibitions, but this mid-

career survey curated by Helaine Posner, AFA Adjunct Curator, is the first

opportunity for audiences to see the artist’s full range over a period of more

than twenty years of production. Beginning with examples of her earli-

est photograph-and-text works dating from 1985, the exhibition follows

Simpson’s career to the present, featuring mural-scaled felt works from

the mid-1990s, film and video installations from 1997 to 2004, and the

artist’s most recent photographs. The exhibition is traveling to five ven-

ues, opening on April 16, 2006, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los

Angeles and subsequently traveling to the Miami Art Museum, the Whitney

Museum of American Art, the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, and the Gibbes

Museum of Art.


6 artiSt bioGr aPhY

Born in 1960, in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, New York, Lorna

Simpson spent her teenage years in the neighboring borough of Queens.

The only child of middle-class parents—her father was a social worker, her

mother a secretary in a hospital—Simpson was encouraged to pursue her

interest in the arts. She attended the High School of Art and Design and

went on to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the School of Visual

Arts in Manhattan, where the photography department focused mainly on

documentary work.

By the end of Simpson’s undergraduate training in the early eighties, she

had come to believe that documentary photography was not only limited

but potentially exploitative. She continued to experiment with photogra-

phy in San Diego, where she moved to complete her professional train-

ing at the University of California. There she worked with Eleanor Antin,

Martha Rosler, and Carrie Mae Weems, feminist and conceptualist artists

whose practice of combining images with text helped Simpson formulate

the structure of her work. “It was there,” she explains, “that I was first

exposed to underground films, their analytical structure, and the history of

film, but I didn’t really have the desire to make films. Due to the technology

at the time—the late 1970s and early ’80s—it would have been a behemoth

project to take that on, financially as well as technically.”⁄ Instead, Simpson

transferred the way experimental films use language and narrative to the

realm of still photography, coupling images with text.

After earning her Master of Fine Arts in 1985, Simpson moved back to

New York, where she continued creating works that combined images with

ambiguous fragments of text. By 1995, she had moved away from this body

of work toward a series of large photographic impressions of landscape

and architecture on a grid of felt pieces accompanied by text panels with

a more explicit narrative. This interest in narrative led to another evolution

for Simpson, and in 1997, she began working in film. Throughout Simpson’s

career and her experimentation with media, her work has eluded direct

interpretation. Sylvia Wolf, photography curator at the Whitney Museum of

American Art, has observed that “in all of her work—films, video installa-

tions, and photographs—Lorna never tells the whole story, or she tells an

open-ended story and forces us to complete it in a way that draws attention

to our own belief systems.”¤

Simpson has received numerous honors, grants, and awards. She was the

first African American woman to have a solo exhibition in the “Projects”

series at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (1990) and to represent

the United States at the prestigious Venice Biennale (1993). Since then she

Proof Reading, 1989

4 Polaroid prints, 4 engraved plastic plaques

40 X 40 inches overall

collection Steven Johnson and walter Sudol,

new York

has been included in a number of significant national and international art

shows—from the Whitney Biennial (1991, 1993, 1995, 2002) to Documenta

at Kassel, Germany (1987 and 2002). She has also had one-person exhi-

bitions—of her felt works at the Miami Art Museum (1997) and of her film

installations at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus (1997) and the

Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (1999). In 1998 Simpson was nominated

for the Hugo Boss Prize by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, and in

2001, she won the Whitney Museum American Art Award.

1. Lorna Simpson, quoted in Barbara Pollack, “Turning Down the Stereotypes,” ARTNews (September

2002): 137.

2. Lorna Simpson, quoted in Barbara Pollack, “Turning Down the Stereotypes,” ARTNews (September

2002): 139.


8 curricuLum connectionS

Below are themes that educators may use to approach the works of art

included in this resource.

• Language

• Memory

• Identity

• Race and Racism

• Femininity/Masculinity

Educators may also reference artists whose work relates to Simpson’s, as

well as the various artists, writers, and filmmakers who Simpson has said

have influenced her.


Glenn Ligon (b. 1960) combines family photographs, magazine images,

sound recordings, and text in works that explore sexuality, identity, and


Isaac Julien (b. 1960) is a filmmaker and installation artist whose work

addresses representations of race and masculinity.

Laylah Ali (b. 1968) often depicts violent subject matter in a playful,

comic-book style. Her small figurative gouache paintings speak to themes

of power and resistance.

Shahzia Sikander (b. 1969) works in the traditional style of Persian min-

iature painting to address themes of personal identity, displacement, and




Eleanor Antin (b. 1935), Simpson’s teacher at the University of California,

is one of the first conceptual artists to combine photography, video, per-

formance, and text.

John Baldessari (b. 1931) is a conceptual artist who utilizes photomon-

tage, juxtaposing text and images.

Anthony Barboza (b. 1944) is a photographer whose thirty-seven-year

career spans documentary, conceptual, fashion, and commercial photog-

raphy. His experimentation in the medium in the early ’80s encouraged

Simpson to question the conventional uses of photography.

Roy DeCarava (b. 1919), a Harlem photographer who came of age in the

1940s, rejected the clichés of strife and poverty in which black subjects

were typically portrayed, instead taking photographs that are positive rep-

resentations of black community.

Allan Kaprow (b. 1927) is a founder of the performance art or “happen-

ings” movement and was one of Simpson’s teachers at the University of

California, San Diego.

Martha Rosler (b. 1943) works in video, photo-text, installation, and per-

formance. Her subjects include everyday life (often with an eye to women’s

experience) the media, and the built environment.

Carrie Mae Weems (b. 1953), a former classmate of Simpson’s at the Uni-

versity of California, San Diego, works with photographs, sound, and text to

investigate issues that impact African American culture. Weems organized

a meeting of black photographers in the Just Above Midtown gallery that

helped Simpson clarify her ideas about documentary photography.


Art critic Chrissie Iles includes the following among Simpson’s cinematic


John Cassavetes (1929–1989) financed his first film himself and went on

to become the father of independent film. His classic film Shadows (1958–

59) depicts the racial tension that transpires when a white male character

discovers that his light-skinned girlfriend is black.

Jean-Luc Godard (b. 1930), one of the key figures of the French New Wave,

is famous for using a fragmented narrative and cinematic language that

challenges the conventions of Hollywood cinema. Among his best-known

films is Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967).

Chantal Akerman (b. 1950) is best known for her film Jeanne Dielman, 23

Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), which employs an unconven-

tional narrative style and subject (the life of a housewife and prostitute).

Babette Mangolte (b. 1941), one of Simpson’s teachers, came of age in the

mid-70s with What Maisie Knew (1975), a film in which the story of five

characters is told from a female, rather than the more typical male, point

of view.



She, 1992

4 Polaroid prints, 1 engraved plastic plaque

29 X 85G inches overall

collection Jack and Sandra Guthman, chicago


David Antin (b. 1932) is known for his “talk poems” (tape-recorded poems

transcribed without punctuation) and his juxtaposition of lecture, stand-up

comedy, story-telling, and poetry.

James Baldwin (1924–1987) is best known for Go Tell It on the Mountain

(1955), long considered an American classic. The book describes Baldwin’s

experience growing up in Harlem and the struggles of black Americans.

Ntozake Shange (b. 1948) is a playwright, poet, and novelist whose work

is noted for its exploration of racial/sexual anger and feminist themes. She

is best known for her play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/

When the Rainbow Is Enuf (1975).

Alice Walker (b. 1944), an activist in the Civil Rights movement of the

’60s, received a Pulitzer Prize for The Color Purple (1983).

Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960), an anthropologist, as well as a novel-

ist and poet, is best known for her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God

(1937), a controversial work at the time of its publication because its pro-

tagonist, Janie, was a strong-willed black woman.

3. Chrissie Iles, “Images Between Images: Lorna Simpson’s Post Narrative Cinema,” in Lorna Simpson,

ed. Thelma Golden (London: Phaidon Press, 2002).

DiScuSSion que StionS anD activitie S


1. How would you describe the visual qualities of Simpson’s work? Make a

list of adjectives that pertain to the way her work looks as a whole and

share the list with the rest of the group.

2. Many of Simpson’s black-and-white photographs are staged so as to

minimize the detail and create starker contrasts and sharper lines.

Why do you think Simpson does this? Why do you think she creates

mostly black-and-white images? What is the effect of this style on the


3. Most of the pieces in this exhibition are bigger than photographs are

typically produced. Do you think the large format has an impact on the

viewer? If so, in what way? Do you think the messages in Simpson’s

work would come across differently if the works had been created as

miniatures? Explain.

4. Simpson once said, “For me, the specter of race looms so large because

this is a culture where using the black figure takes on very particular

meanings, even stereotypes. But, if I were a white artist using Cauca-

sian models, then the work would be read as completely universalist. It

would be construed quite differently.”› Because Simpson typically uses

black models, her works tend to be seen as statements about African

American identity. Discuss this observation as a group.

If you wanted to create a photograph that communicated a universal

statement on identity, how would you aim to achieve it? Describe the

style, setting, and subject you would depict in your image.

5. Issues of feminine identity are prominent in Simpson’s work. What are

some assumptions, expectations, and stereotypes related to a woman’s

appearance that are prominent in our society? How do you see these

stereotypes reflected in the media and in advertising? How do you see

them reflected in your own behavior or the behavior of those around


6. In regard to her work, Simpson has commented:

I have always constructed things within the form of a grid—maybe starting

out with whole images but quickly serializing them and segmenting

them into quadrants to make up one entire image. So there’s something

about the grid and about fragmentation that I’ve always liked as a formal

device . . . I have a tendency to do the same thing to the subject.



The subject is always segmented or taken apart and reassembled in a

particular way where you see the cracks and the seams where things

are put together or re-constructed . . . The way I operate is in this very

fragmented way, not as a “whole” subject. I don’t interpret the world or

the things around me within one ideological scope.fi

Which pieces in this resource guide (or in the entire exhibition) are

formatted in a grid pattern? In the above quote by Simpson, she com-

ments on fragmentation of the image as well as of the subject of the

work. How can a subject be fragmented or segmented? Is there a piece

in this exhibition that you feel illustrates this idea?


the Significance of Placement

Aim: To understand cropping and composition in photography.

Materials: Paper, pencil or pen, scissors, thumb tacks, camera.


1. Compare the placement and cropping of the figure in the following

Simpson photographs: Call Waiting, Waterbearer, Gestures/Reenact-

ments, and 1978–1988. Discussion should address what is included in

the image and what is excluded, as well as where the figure is placed

in the picture.

2. Choose a subject—an object, person, place, etc.—to photograph.

3. Think about the characteristics of this subject and make a list of adjec-

tives describing it.

4. Take a series of photographs that capture the subject and convey the

adjectives you included in your list. As you take these photographs,

experiment with different ways to present or capture your subject, such

as focusing the lens to make the subject appear larger and smaller

(closer or further away), cropping parts of the subject out of the image,

and, if possible, changing the lighting.

5. Hang the photographs in a row, adding the adjectives you sought to

express below the corresponding photograph. Share with the class and


using Film to examine identity

Aim: To employ some of the technical and organizational skills involved in

filmmaking and develop critical thinking skills.

Materials: Digital camera, sound, editing equipment (if your school does

not have digital media equipment, students may have their own cameras or

look online for companies willing to donate equipment to schools).


1. As a group, talk about identity, especially in relation to the age of the

students in the class. Make a list of issues that come up in the conversa-


2. Have a discussion to brainstorm about stories/scenarios that touch

upon these issues, taking notes on the board. Get the class to agree

on one storyline or a series of very short vignettes, depending on how

much time you have available. (If time is limited, simplify by filming

in a documentary style, conducting a series of interviews discussing


3. Ask students to divide themselves into the following production crews

to create the film:

• Writers/Directors (work with the actors, develop the dialogue, and

organize a shooting schedule)

• Art Direction (develop the look and feel of the film, finding and pre-

paring locations, costumes, and props)

• Camera, Sound, and Lighting (operate and care for the equipment)

Audio tip: Every camera comes with a built-in microphone, but you

can also create your own boom microphone by taping a hand-held

microphone to a long pole.

• Editors (assemble the final film, including transitions between

scenes, sound, and the final look)

Editing tip: Editing requires special software and a computer with

enough storage space to house your film as you edit. Apple’s iMovie

is one of the easiest programs.

• Actors (rehearse the scenes and learn the script, as well as the block-

ing for the scene, i.e., where the actors need to stand or move)

4. Try to create an opportunity for the whole school to view the finished


Resources for educators who want more information:

iLife (www.apple.com/education/ilife/)

An Apple site that offers classroom filmmakers iMovie (a film editing

program) editing instruction and ideas for integrating digital media into

the classroom.

The Importance of Editing (www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/moviemaker/


Provides moviemaking tips and software for Windows platform.

4. Lorna Simpson, quoted in Barbara Pollack, “Turning Down the Stereotypes,” ARTNews (September

2002): 139.

5. Lorna Simpson, in “Conversation with the Artist,” Lorna Simpson (New York: American Federation

of Arts in association with Abrams, 2006), p. 139


Selected works of art with

Discussion questions and activities


Discussion Questions

1. Why do you think Simpson chose to

crop the head of her subject (or most of it)

from these images?

2. Look at each image and describe

the body language depicted by the

subject. What do you think each pose


3. Do you think there is a sequence to the

images? Is there any significance to the


4. In this piece, there are six photographs

and seven text panels. Why do you think

Simpson chose to include an extra panel

of text?

Activity: Deconstructing

lorna Simpson’s Gestures/


Aim: To strengthen critical thinking skills

through the interpretation of text.


1. Divide students into groups, with one

group for each of the seven sets of text

that appear under the images in this work.

Assign each group one text to focus on.

2. Ask each group to discuss the

possible meanings and connections within

their text panel, and then make an outline

of them.

3. Have each group present their ideas to

the class and then discuss as a group.

4. Create a chart on the blackboard

that has a column for each of the seven

text panels. Record notes from each

presentation in the appropriate column.

5. Looking at the completed chart,

discuss any consistent themes that

emerge from each group. What do you

think is communicated by the texts as a


1. Gestures/reenactments, 1985

6 gelatin silver prints, 7 texts mounted on foam core

Photographs 48G X 39G inches each, 252 inches overall

collection raymond Learsy and melva bucksbaum, connecticut

The settings of Simpson’s photographs—which in the beginning alternate

between a stark white background or somber black and later include a

brownish red background, after she started working in color with the

large-format Polaroid camera—appear like backdrops for technical or sci-

entific photography. She gives the images a neutral, almost institutional

appearance by isolating the figures from any point of reference. With these

1980s works that pair text and images, Simpson depicted powerful ges-

tures of resistance.

The first mature image that emerged from this new body of work, Ges-

tures/Reenactments encapsulates the first stage of this period of intense

experimentation. Simpson’s use of the black male figure in this series of

gelatin silver prints is surprising because subsequently Simpson would

work mostly with black female subjects. The series of monologues that

runs beneath the six panels explores various anxieties that plague the

black male subject in American culture. In the first panel the monologue is

as follows:

So who’s your hero—

me & my runnin buddy

how his runnin buddy was standing

when they thought he had a gun

how Larry was standing when he found


There is a melancholic quality to these lines that suggests that this is

a scene of tragedy and loss. By leaving the lines incomplete, Simpson

appears to be calling on viewers to complete the picture, to draw some

conclusions about the fate of the “runnin buddy.” Standing off the frame,

the anonymous male figure dressed in white shorts and T-shirt appears

“as if he had been roused from bed. The mark of resignation in his slightly

slackened frame is drawn out by the manner in which he stands, with his

hands placed on his hips, scratching his thigh, or with hands folded facing

the viewer. The gesture and pose indicate how people often stand when

absorbing disturbing news.”fl

Because the black male is often portrayed as either uncontrollable or too

constrained, the figure in Gestures/Reenactments is a symbol of his social

condition. The text panels that accompany the work present an essay on

that condition. Simpson forces us not just to read the panels but to analyze

their meaning.

6. Okwui Enwezor, “Repetition and Differentiation—Lorna Simpson’s Iconography of the Racial Sublime,”

in Lorna Simpson (New York: American Federation of Arts in association with Abrams, 2006),

p. 110.



Discussion Questions

1. Describe the positioning of the figure.

Is there anything unusual about this


2. Why do you think Simpson chose to

depict her subject from behind?

3. Are there any clues to suggest the

subject’s social status?

4. What is the relationship between

the image and the text? How might the

image be interpreted if the text were not


5. Why is the woman pouring water?

What do you think the water signifies?

6. The Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer

(1632–1675) depicted scenes of everyday

life in the city of Delft in the Netherlands,

including paintings of ordinary women

holding pitchers. Do you think the figure

in Waterbearer is referencing Vermeer’s

paintings? Why? If so, what do you think

is the meaning behind the reference?

Activity: Imagining the


Aim: To use creative writing to respond to

Lorna Simpson’s Waterbearer.


1. Look at the photographic portion of

Waterbearer. What does the positioning

of the figure make you think of? Do the

pitchers symbolize anything to you?

2. Read the text that accompanies the

photograph. What do you think happened

by the river?

3. Using Simpson’s text as a starting

point, write a story about the man and

woman mentioned in the text.

4. Ask students to share their stories with

the class.

2. waterbearer, 1986

Gelatin silver print, vinyl lettering

45 × 77 inches (framed), 55 × 77 inches overall

collection Sean and mary Kelly, new York

In Waterbearer, Simpson pairs an image of a partially obscured figure with

suggestive fragments of text, challenging the viewer’s expectations of nar-

rative and identity. This structure would become a signature of much of

Simpson’s work. In the photograph, a black woman dressed in a white,

loose-fitting dress stands with her back turned to the viewer and with

raised arms holds a silver pitcher in one hand and a plastic jug in the

other. The text reads, “She saw him disappear by the river, they asked her

to tell what happened, only to discount her memory.” Hiding the woman’s

identity, Simpson uses gesture and text to create an open-ended narrative.

While the posture of the figure calls to mind the scales of justice, the text

suggests that although this woman was asked for a statement, presum-

ably by some authority, her account of the mysterious event was ignored.

The ambiguity of the image leaves room for numerous interpretations.

The disparate pair of vessels may symbolize, for example, the two ends of

the economic spectrum or, more directly, containers used to draw water

from the river referred to in the text. As the historian bell hooks points

out, “Simpson’s portrait is reminiscent of Vermeer’s paintings of working

women—maids standing silently by basins of water in still poses that carry

no hint of emotional threat. Yet Simpson’s language brings a threat to the

fore.”‡ The woman’s knowledge threatens and therefore she is refused a

voice. Yet this refusal is countered by the intensity of the image and by the

woman’s defiant stance.

7. bell hooks, “Lorna Simpson: Waterbearer,” Art Forum (September 1993): 137.


Discussion Questions

1. What do you think of when you first

look at this piece? Describe the first thing

that comes to mind.

2. Why do you think Simpson chose to

repeat the same image rather than use

different ones?

3. Why do you think Simpson chose

these questions? What do you think each

of the five questions means? Does the

addition of text change your reading of the


4. Why do you think Simpson chose

to title this piece Twenty Questions

(A Sampler)? Does the title provide any

clues on the meaning? How does the title

relate to the five questions posed to the


Activity: Visual Codes

Aim: To examine the ways in which we

understand a photograph or image.


1. Look through a newspaper or

magazine and find a photograph of a

person or place.

2. Cut out the picture, excluding any

captions or text.

3. What information can you infer

about the subject of the photograph?

For example, can you gauge his or her

emotional state? Socioeconomic status?

Profession? Location of residence?

What things lead you to believe these

things about the person pictured (facial

expression, gestures, camera angle,

clothing, lighting)?

4. Make a list of words that describe

what you infer about this subject. Share

with the class and explain your thoughts.

3. twenty questions (a Sampler), 1986

4 gelatin silver prints, 6 engraved plastic plaques

Photographs 25½ inches each (framed diameter), 106¾ inches overall

courtesy the artist and Sean Kelly Gallery, new York

Here Simpson uses the traditional circular format of nineteenth-century

portraiture to present her subject. Four identical images of the subject are

repeated, her features hidden by her lush pomaded hair (hair plays a cru-

cial role in the work) that also conceals her neck, revealing only her bare

shoulders and upper back, which is covered by a simple dress. With the

subject’s back positioned toward the viewer, the face and gaze are hidden.

Five questions placed beneath the photographs, each related to defining

who this subject is, invite us to make judgments about her. The questions

are: “Is she as pretty as a picture,” “Or clear as crystal,” “Or pure as a lily,”

“Or black as coal,” and “Or sharp as a razor.”

The repetition of the image is reminiscent of a police lineup and its nine-

teenth-century forerunner, the mug shot, a system for creating photo-

graphic records of criminals that was created by Alphonse Bertillon. Prior

to the practice of fingerprinting, Bertillon also devised a meticulous method

of measuring body parts as a means of recording and identifying criminals.

As we know, the line-up can be an agent of both identification and mis-

identification. Simpson has used and tweaked it, with the self-repeating

image calling on the viewer to decide which question defines the subject.

The “twenty questions” that is part of the title adds a playful twist to the

reading of the work. Twenty Questions is a spoken game in which one per-

son chooses an object that will be the answer; the other participants can

ask twenty questions, receiving a “yes” or “no” answer for hints as they try

to guess the object. The term “sampler” is often used in reference to a piece

of cloth embroidered with a sampling of needlepoint designs. The earli-

est known examples were created in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries

before printed pattern books were available, and they served as both an

example of a woman’s skill at needlework and a means for recording pat-

terns and motifs for future use. The stitching of samplers was believed to

be a sign of virtue, achievement, and industry in women. Samplers are still

stitched today, usually using kits purchased from needlework shops.


Discussion Questions

1. What do you think the hair in this piece


2. If Simpson is using hair as a stand-in

for a person, what does the hair depicted

in 1978–1988 suggest about the person

it represents (in regard to gender, race,


3. What is the significance of the hair

(or braids) being shown unattached to a


4. Why do you think Simpson chose to

frame the four image panels?

5. Simpson could have attached

actual braids to the panels instead of

photographing them. Why do you think

she chose to use photographs instead of

the real thing?

6. If you were to choose one thing to

represent yourself (as Simpson chose

hair to represent people), what would you


Activity: Creating a


Aim: To explore symbols of identity.


1. Think about the things in your life that

are very personal and/or important to you.

2. Choose things around you that you

feel help to define who you are.

3. Take photographs of each of these


4. Arrange them in a collage that

symbolically creates a self-portrait.

4. 1978–88, 1990

4 gelatin silver prints, 13 engraved plastic plaques

Photographs 49 X 17 inches each (framed), 49 X 70 inches overall

collection Gregory r. miller, new York

For the past decade, Simpson has explored the role of hair as a marker of

social identity and, more specifically, the role of hair in African American

culture: a complex and continuing saga in which hair can be seen as a

medium for creativity, political emblem, marker of self-ownership, source

of pride, and on occasion, even now, of shame. 1978–1988 refers specifi-

cally to the identity of African Americans and how they conform to, or rebel

against, prevailing white standards of beauty by braiding, dying, weaving,

and processing their hair. The piece is made up of four vertical framed

panels that feature close-up photographs of nearly identical braids evenly

spaced on a black background. The columns of braids are punctuated with

thirteen small panels, each containing hair-related words such as “weave,”

“tangle,” and “knot,” suggestive of a journal that records different aspects

of a woman’s relationship to her hair or chronologically charts the changes

in hairstyle preferences. By representing hair that is unattached to a body,

Simpson exposes hair as an alterable or removable embellishment that

may distort our understanding of what is natural or desirable in the human

body. Hair becomes a means of transformation.

Stereo Styles, 1988

10 Polaroid prints, 10 engraved plastic plaques

Photographs 35 X 31 inches each, plaques 3 X 6 inches each, 66 X 116 inches overall

collection raymond Learsy and melva bucksbaum, connecticut


Discussion Questions

1. What is depicted in each of the three

images? What kind of mask is pictured?

What do you think the mask symbolizes?

Why do you think Simpson chose to show

the woman and the mask from the back?

2. In this piece, Simpson builds meaning

through the juxtaposition of images.

Although she does not communicate a

specific narrative, the images combine to

create meaning that may be interpreted

differently by each viewer. What do you

think is the connection between the

anonymous female figure, the coil of

hair, and the African mask? How do you

interpret Simpson’s Coiffure?

3. There are detailed instructions for

braiding hair under the center image.

What does this add to the work? Why do

you think Simpson included this text?

4. Why do you think the text was placed

only under the image of the braided hair?

5. As a child, Simpson recalls having her

hair braided, then cut. Do you have any

memories of having your hair cut or styled

when you were a child? Write a short

description of the “ritual” as it occurred in

your family.

Activity: Using Images to Build

Visual narratives

Aim: To express meaning by grouping

images relating to a specific social topic

into a collage.


1. Ask students to choose a social topic

such as gender, economic status, race,

body image, or identity.

2. Have them choose magazine images

that they feel represent issues related to

their topic. Encourage them to think about

narrative relationships as they select their


3. Ask students to arrange the images

into a collage and glue them to a large

sheet of paper, poster board, or Masonite.

4. Have students share their collages

with the rest of the class and have their

classmates try to guess what subject was

being represented.

5. coiffure, 1991

3 gelatin silver prints, 10 engraved plastic plaques

Photographs 47 X 39 inches each, 72 X 106 inches overall

collection michael Krichman and carmen cuenca, San Diego

In Coiffure, Simpson juxtaposes three black-and-white images: a woman

with a closely cropped hairstyle seen from the back, a coil of braided hair,

and an African mask, also seen from the back. In the early 1990s, Simpson

began to incorporate images of hair and occasionally ritual objects into her

work. This piece seems even more ambiguous than her images of lone fig-

ures in plain white dresses because the meaning of the coils of hair paired

with African masks is unclear. The accompanying detailed instructions for

a personal ritual of hairdressing suggest issues related to cultural practice.

With the objects closely cropped, centered, and isolated against a shallow,

black background, they are presented with a nearly clinical detachment,

void of emotional or cultural significance, like scientific specimens.

The representation of hair, specifically braided hair, is a recurring theme in

Simpson’s work. Images of braided and coiled hair highlight associations

between hair and culture, ethnicity, gender, and may even serve as a rep-

resentation for the whole body. “Perhaps as an extension of her reflection

upon the functional links between hair, cultural practice, physical trans-

formation and ethnicity, she turned next to an equally loaded object—the

traditional African mask.”° The mask serves as an object through which

public and private ritual, as well as the discontinuities and contradictions

of ethnic identity, can be explored. In traditional African societies, the mask

functions as a vehicle for ritual transformation within communal religious

beliefs and cultural practices, much like hair and wigs serve as transforma-

tion devices in contemporary society. As an icon of ethnicity the African

mask has become a symbol of the racial and cultural differences that sepa-

rate African from Western society. In this piece, Simpson is not concerned

with solely commenting on black representation but also with combining

symbols and language in new and provocative ways.

8. Beryl Wright, “Back Talk: Recoding the Body,” Callaloo 19, no. 2 (1996): 397–413.


Discussion Questions

1. Describe the objects depicted in the


2. What do the shoes and clothes tell us

about the person in the photograph?

3. Do you think the repetition of the

images makes the piece more effective

than if each image appeared only once?

4. Most of Simpson’s works have a black

or white background for the subject. Why

do you think the artist chose red as the

background for this piece? Do you think

red has any symbolic meaning?

5. The black box in the top section has

many possible meanings. What do you

think it symbolizes? Why?

6. The shoes depicted in the bottom third

of the installation appear in pairs except

in the first image, which is a single shoe.

What do you think this symbolizes?

7. In the middle third of the installation,

there are six images of nearly identical

torsos. Three of the figures have their

arms crossed and three are pictured with

their hands in their pockets. Compare the

body language of each pose.

8. “Bio” is from the Greek word bios,

meaning mode of life. The words “biopsy,”

“biography,” and “biology” appear at the

bottom of the piece. Discuss Simpson’s

use of these words and her choice of title.

9. Compare the figure in Waterbearer

to the figure in Bio. How are the figures

similar? Different? What are some

adjectives you would use to describe


Activity: Interpreting Text

Aim: To develop critical thinking skills

through the interpretation of text.


1. Discuss with your class the possible

meanings of the text segments from Bio,

shown on the facing page.

2. Each set of texts presents contrasting

themes such as internal/external, inside/

outside, personal/societal. Have each

student write a list of the themes for each

set and compare with the rest of your


6. bio, 1992

18 internal dye diffusion transfer process prints, 9 engraved

Plexiglas plaques

98 X 162 inches overall

museum of contemporary art, chicago; gift of maremont

corporation by exchange, purchased through funds provided

by at&t new art/new vision

In this work, Simpson again uses repetition to emphasize her subject mat-

ter. The series of six nearly identical images arranged in three horizontal

rows are framed at the bottom edge by three words—“biopsy,” “biogra-

phy,” “biology”—giving us both the title and clues to the meaning of the

piece. Art historian Kellie Jones has said, “Using these three words that

begin with life (bio from the Greek bios, meaning mode of life), Simpson

elegantly describes key constructs that impact on and regulate individuals

and bodies, from the clinical control and dismemberment implicit in biopsy,

the performance of race that signals biography, and the gestures of living

gender that surround biology. The figures that Simpson depicts balance on

these sites of identity-formation and power.”·

In the top section, accompanying six photographs of identical black boxes,

are text fragments in which the discourses of medicine, race, and iden-

tity converge: “choose general and you might lose a shelf of memory” and

choose local and you’ll remember too much” relate the act of choosing

anesthesia to selective memory. The texts “bled to death inside hospital

last year” and “bled to death outside hospital 60 years ago” recall the seg-

regation of medical facilities. In the last two texts, “tendency to keloid,”

which may refer to African American bodies, is coupled with “tendency to

be prescribed antidepressants.” The external scarring of a keloid (a fibrous

scar tissue) is equated with the internal scarring of depression.

The focal points are once again the backs of bodies in the middle row of

images, but this time, the torsos are draped with crisp, broad-shouldered

gray suits rather than Simpson’s familiar white dresses. Arrayed above the

bottom row of text are six Polaroids of black oxford shoes. A pair graces

each photograph except on the far left, where a single shoe floats above

the word “biopsy.” The three types of images taken together seem to stand

in for the entire body. The black box atop each torso is the head, the com-

mand center and container of memory, much like its counterpart on an

airplane. Its color suggests a coffin, though its size seems ideally suited to

the footwear below.

9. Kellie Jones, Thelma Golden, and Chrissie Iles, Lorna Simpson (London and New York: Phaidon,

2002) p. 49.

text Panels

choose general and you might lose a shelf of memory

choose local and you’ll remember too much

bled to death inside a hospital last year

bled to death outside hospital 60 years ago

tendency to keloid

tendency to be prescribed anti depressants



Discussion Questions

1. Describe what you see in this image.

2. Without looking at the time on the

clock tower, what time of day do you think

this image was taken? Why?

3. What do you think the clock


4. Can you see what time the clock on

the right says? The clock on the left? Why

do you think the two clocks show slightly

different times?

5. How does Simpson’s use of felt

(instead of paper, for instance) affect the

meaning of the piece?

6. This image is printed on a grid of felt

panels. Why do you think Simpson chose

to use a grid format? Do you think the grid

symbolizes anything?

Activity: Using Value to

portray Distance

Aim: To create a cityscape applying the

principles of value to achieve the illusion

of depth.


The Clock Tower contains a beautiful

range of values in black and white that

helps to create the illusion of depth.

Typically, the objects furthest away appear

to be the lightest. (In this image, however,

one building in the background is black.)

1. Discuss the principles of value,

showing the location in The Clock Tower

of the darkest area of the image, the

middle tone, and the lightest area.

2. Have students find images of a

landscape in magazines, or if cameras

are available, ask them to take their own

landscape photos.

3. Ask students to photocopy their

images and then, using tracing paper,

trace the main contours of the image.

4. Have students divide the image into

a foreground, background, and middle

ground and create the illusion of depth

through the use of three varying values of

black acrylic paint or watercolors. (Use

the darkest value for the foreground, a

middle value for the middle ground, and

the lightest value for the background.)

7. the clock tower, 1995

Serigraph on 12 felt panels with 1 text panel

100H X 90 inches overall

collection mr. and mrs. michael ringier, Zurich

The Clock Tower is one of a series of works that Simpson created by print-

ing an image from her own archive of photographs taken during her travels

abroad or around New York City on to a grid of felt panels, setting them

up as scenes of public encounters and enlivening them with snippets of

dialogue. In this series, Simpson’s growing interest in narrative anticipates

her next move into film. This piece shows a hulking view of a tower pho-

tographed from a distance and placed in the center of the image. The two

clocks embedded on the south and east faces of the tower are slightly mis-

aligned (one face reads 8:21 and the other 8:24).

The text that accompanies The Clock Tower follows the trajectory of an over-

heard conversation, bringing together the audio and visual, the eavesdrop-

per and the voyeur simultaneously. Foretelling the dialogue that emerges

in Simpson’s first film, Call Waiting, the conversation is between a man and

woman who work in the same office. In the present conversation, however,

the two lovers are discussing the details of their after-work assignation in

the tower where the clocks are. A close reading of the text and descriptive

elements of the unfolding drama reveals Simpson’s insightful observations

of peoples’ mundane lives and desires, as well as their constant pursuit of

dangerous thrills and petty gratifications.

The Rock, 1995

Serigraph on 12 felt panels with 2 felt text panels

100H × 89H inches overall

courtesy the artist and Sean Kelly Gallery, new York


Discussion Questions

1. Why do you think Simpson chose to

work in film, rather than still photography

alone, to create this piece?

2. Why do you think she shot the film

in black and white? Would the effect be

different if it were in color?

3. If it is possible to visit the exhibition,

have the students watch the film. Ask

them what they think it is about. Does

Simpson create a coherent narrative

through the film? How is the narrative

different from the format of a typical


Activity: Creative Writing

Aim: To exercise creative thinking through

the act of writing fiction.


1. Have students look at the prints from

Call Waiting. Ask them what they think

is happening. What may have happened

before and after these images were taken?

2. Ask them to write a short narrative

describing what they think is happening in

this series of images.

3. Have students share their narrative

with the rest of the class and discuss after

each one.

See also Activity: Using Film to Examine

Identity (p. 12).

8. call waiting, 1997

video installation, 16mm black-and-white film

transferred to DvD

13 minutes, 11 seconds, sound

commissioned for inSite ’97

courtesy the artist and Sean Kelley Gallery, new York

- and -

12 framed silver gelatin prints with silk-screened texts

22H × 18H inches each (framed)

courtesy the artist and Sean Kelly Gallery, new York

There is something about working in film and video that caused me

to shift the way that I work with regard to process. Film provides a

multilayered process . . . as opposed to the solitary act of making photographs.

For me, film provides an option for a much more spontaneous

way of working.⁄‚ —Lorna Simpson

Call Waiting, a single-channel work filmed in black and white—as well as

a series of photographic stills from the film—mimics the murky atmosphere

and plot twists of film noir. Simpson’s film allows the viewer to eavesdrop

on various people talking on the telephone in Spanish, Japanese, and Eng-

lish (with subtitles) about relationships. The intimate tone of these inter-

woven conversations is repeatedly disrupted by call-waiting signals, which

deny the viewer a linear narrative and often result in humorous exchanges.

The constantly interrupted narrative is transformed into a series of open-

ended stories. The telephone, a medium of communication, here becomes a

cause of miscommunication.

In Call Waiting, Simpson creates a series of vignettes that show vari-

ous characters in deceitful roles, with lovers conversing on the phone,

double-crossing and being double-crossed. Call Waiting is as much about

the search for pleasure and the frustration of desire as it is the struggle

for power between women and men. Simpson positions the woman at the

center of this conversation, making her both the protagonist and antago-

nist in a display of angst between various couples. According to art critic

Horace Brockington, “Simpson is concerned with how the viewer’s own

preconceptions shape individual meaning for imagery and text. Through

the introduction of moving figures and sound, the figures in her recent

work seem less guarded, revealing more of their inner states. One suspects

that Simpson is still leaving all interpretation to choice, as she has so often


done in her work. By making the figures silent and supplying a disjunctive

narrative text, Lorna Simpson continues to force the viewer to put together

image, action and text.”⁄⁄

The soft-focus, inky surfaces, and moody dramatic lighting of the film stills

convey a sense of film noir. However, the noir genre does not, as some have

argued, carry over to Simpson’s films. Rather than cinema, the structure

of films like Call Waiting and Interior/Exterior, Full/Empty is drawn from

television, from the classic format of daytime soap operas.

10. Lorna Simpson, in “Conversation with the Artist,” Lorna Simpson (New York: American Federation

of Arts in association with Abrams, 2006), p. 134.

11. Horace Brockington, “Logical Anonymity,” The International Review of African American Art 15,

no. 3 (1999): 20–29.

From Interior/Exterior, Full/Empty, 1997

1 of 18 framed gelatin silver prints with silk-screened texts

22H X 18H inches each (framed)

courtesy the artist and Sean Kelly Gallery, new York



Discussion Questions

1. What is your immediate reaction to

this piece? What did you notice first?

Describe what you see. What do you

notice upon further contemplation?

2. In this piece, Simpson repeats the

same image of a black woman facing two

different directions. Why do you think she

used repetition in this way? Do you think it

symbolizes anything?

3. The arrangement of the photographs

in repetitive rows imitates a cinematic

storyboard. Is there anything else about

this piece that reminds you of the cinema?


4. If possible, have students watch the

movie Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

How do you think the Simpson piece

relates to the film? With all the other films

or paintings listed in this piece, why do

you think Simpson chose to name it after

this film?

Activity: Text and Image

Aim: To explore the different ways that text

and image can interact.


1. Choose a photograph from any source,

photocopy it or cut it out, and paste it on a

piece of paper.

2. Select or write a text (a poem, a line

of dialogue, an excerpt from a story, a

saying) that, when juxtaposed with the

photograph, changes the meaning of the

photograph or comments on the meaning

in some way.

3. On the back of your piece, explain why

you chose the text you did and what you

want to convey by your choices.

4. Ask students to present their projects

to the rest of the class.

9. untitled (guess who’s coming to dinner), 2001

Gelatin silver prints under semi-transparent Plexiglas

with vinyl lettering

61 X 41 inches

courtesy the artist and Sean Kelley Gallery, new York

Untitled (guess who’s coming to dinner) addresses the taboo interracial

relationship portrayed in the movie Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967),

a romance of race and progressive politics in which Sidney Poitier plays

the sensitive, urbane black love interest of a white woman. The Poitier

character overcomes his blackness through his non-threatening demeanor

(he plays a renowned United Nations doctor), thereby becoming worthy of

his beloved. What is ultimately redeemed in the film, however, is neither

Poitier’s black character nor blackness, but rather whiteness.

The title of this work serves as a subtext for its reading. Interspersed in

the frame of the piece are vertical bands of near-identical profile shots of a

young black woman. Arranged facing in and out of the frame, some of the

images fill the oval frame or cut off part of the face. A long vertical list of

titles drawn from films and paintings runs down the bottom left and right

sides of the photographic panel. Made anywhere between the 1790s and

the 1970s, the titles Simpson cites are by or about black people and were

selected for their loaded references.

This piece is part of a group of works Simpson created in 2001 in which she

returns to still photography and pictures of black women; however, it is not

a repeat of earlier imagery. Created a decade after her signature imagery of

ambiguous female figures with their backs toward the viewer, these pieces

place even more emphasis on process, play, and intuitive markings, and the

subjects are different as well. They are not full bodies but rather are seen

in headshots or cameos, and they are not wrapped in simple white dresses

but rather are stylishly dressed in black. In Untitled (guess who’s coming

to dinner), each “guest” is contained in an oval setting reminiscent of deli-

cate eighteenth-century cameos. The arrangement of the photographs in

repetitive rows mimics a cinematic storyboard, linking this body of work to

Simpson’s recent experiments with film-based projects.

36 GLoSSarY

conceptual art The name given to a type of art in which the idea or

concept expressed by the artist is primary and the physical properties

of the work secondary. Mostly a phenomenon of the 1960s, the term

“conceptual art” embraces a wide variety of styles, forms, and ideas,

including happenings and performance art.

documentary photography Candid photographs that provide a record

of social and political situations with the aim of conveying information.

Early documentary photographs were used to relay information about

important events and the scenery and people of distant or unexplored

lands. They were also used to record the successive stages of significant

or complex construction and development projects. In the first half of the

nineteenth century, they were mainly used to chronicle poverty and the

hardships faced by the working class.

experimental film A sequence of images, literal or abstract, that does

not necessarily form a narrative. An experimental film can be animated,

live action, computer generated, or a combination of all three. Noteworthy

examples of experimental films include Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian

Dog) (1929), Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), and A Movie (1958).

film noir French for “dark film.” Originally used by French critics to

describe films characterized by pessimism, cynicism, and a dark, somber

tone, the term has been used to describe black-and-white Hollywood

melodramas of the 1940s and 1950s that portray the seedy side of life.

Typically, a film noir is shot with lighting that emphasizes shadow and

stark contrasts, abounds in night scenes, and contains a cynical antihero.

gelatin silver print A positive image (prints or transparencies in which

light and dark correspond to the tonal range of the original subject)

composed of light-sensitive silver particles held in a binder layer of

gelatin on paper. Beginning in the late 1870s, this technique was used

to make contact prints and enlargements from negatives. Gelatin silver

enlarging papers continue to be widely used for black-and-white

photographs today.

happening Developed by Allan Kaprow in the late 1950s, a happening

is a non-verbal, theatrical production that abandons stage-audience

structure, as well as the usual plot or narrative line of traditional theatre.

Although a compartmented organization may be used, the performers

are considered as objects—often kinesthetically involved—within an

overall design of environment, timing, sound, color and light. Found

environments are often used and built upon, but the events are not

casually arrived at, nor are they entirely accidental and spontaneous.

installation art An art form in which the artist uses any combination

of materials (natural materials, video, sound, performance, painting, etc.)

to create a visualization of three-dimensionality. An installation often

occupies a space into which the viewer can enter.

new wave cinema One of the most significant film movements in the

history of the cinema. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the New

Wave rejuvenated France’s already prestigious cinema and energized

the international art cinema, as well as film criticism and theory. The

New Wave dramatically changed filmmaking inside and outside France

by encouraging new styles, themes, and modes of production.

performance art An art form that consists of or features a performance

by the artist.

photomontage Largely the creation of the Berlin Dadaists, photomontage

is a technique of making images from bits of different preexisting

photographs that are cut out, arranged, and pasted down to form

a composition. Prominent among its pioneers were Raoul Hausmann,

John Heartfield, and Hannah Höch. Photomontage has also been used by

Surrealists such as Max Ernst and Pop artists such as Richard Hamilton.

still (or film still) A static photograph, typically a photograph of actors or

scenes of a motion picture created for publicity or documentary purposes.

Definitions were drawn from the following sources:

Dictionary of the Arts. Edited by Chris Murray. Oxfordshire, UK: Helicon Publishing Limited, 1994.

Encyclopedia Britannica Online. www.britannica.com.

The Harper Collins Dictionary of Terms and Techniques. Edited by Ralph Mayer. New York:

Harper Prennial, 1969.

ICP International Center of Photography Encyclopedia of Photography. New York: Crown, 1984.

The Oxford Dictionary of Art. Edited by Ian Chilvers and Harold Osborne. New York: Oxford

University Press, 1997.

The Thames and Hudson Dictionary of Art Terms. Edited by Edward Lucie-Smith. New York:

Thames and Hudson, 1984.



bibLioGr aPhY


Capa, Cornell, ed. The Concerned Photographer. New York: Grossman

Publishers, 1968.

This anthology of documentary photography is the catalogue of a land-

mark exhibition organized by Cornell Capa in 1967 at the Riverside

Museum. It introduced the term “concerned photography” to under-

score the alleged ethical obligations of the photographer to document

and publicize the most troubling parts of society.

DeCarava, Roy, and Langston Hughes. Sweet Flypaper of Life. New York:

Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1967.

A book of photographs by Roy DeCarava with accompanying poems by

Langston Hughes. The documentary-style photographs depict black life

in America. Simpson credits this book as having a decisive influence

on her work, particularly in the interplay between text and image.

Golden, Thelma, ed. Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in

Contemporary Art. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1994.

This book, which accompanied an exhibition of the same name, is a

thorough examination of the black male subject in visual culture.

——— . Lorna Simpson. London: Phaidon, 2002.

A comprehensive study of Simpson’s art from the early 1980s to most

recent works. Included are essays by Kellie Jones and Chrissie Iles, as

well as an interview with Simpson and an extensive bibliography.

Morrison, Toni. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary

Imagination. New York: Vintage Books, 1992.

A book consisting of a series of three essays that examine the opera-

tions of whiteness and blackness in classics of American literature

such as Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Ernest Hemmingway’s

To Have and Have Not. Among the works explored are books that have

not traditionally been discussed in regard to race.

Robinson, Jontyle Theresa, ed. Bearing Witness: Contemporary Works by

African American Women Artists. New York: Spelman College and Rizzoli

International Publications, 1996.

Features an essay on Simpson’s Wigs and 9 Props. Provides a discus-

sion on the theme of the eroticization of the black female body.

Simpson, Lorna, and Sarah J. Rogers. Lorna Simpson: Interior/Exterior,

Full/Empty. Columbus, Ohio: Wexner Center for the Arts/The Ohio State

University, 1997.

This publication presents the film project that Simpson developed dur-

ing an artist-in-residence program at the Wexner Center for the Arts.

Wallace, Michelle. Invisibility Blues: From Popular Culture to Theory.

London and New York: Verso, 1990.

An examination of the ways that mainstream feminism and popular

culture have overlooked and obscured the experience of black women.

Willis, Deborah. Lorna Simpson. San Francisco: The Friends of

Photography, 1992.

A survey of Simpson’s early photographs and installations, according

to the notion of racial invisibility. The author also examines the artist’s

work within the context of African American art tradition. Includes an

interview with the artist.

——— . Reflections in Black. New York: W. W. Norton, 2000.

——— . The Black Female Body: A Photographic History. Philadelphia:

Temple University Press, 2002.

Wright, Beryl, and Saidiya J. Hartman. Lorna Simpson: For the Sake

of the Viewer. New York: Universe Publishers; Chicago: Museum of

Contemporary Art, 1992

An overview of the traditional ways of representing and seeing the

black, female body and a discussion of the ways in which Simpson

critiques and resists this tradition.


Brockington, Horace. “Logical Anonymity.” The International Review of

African American Art 15, no. 3 (1999): 20–29.

An examination of Simpson’s films. The author also investigates the

distinguishing characteristics of Simpson’s cinematic style and its

impact on the viewer.

hooks, bell. “Lorna Simpson: Waterbearer.” Artforum (September 1993):


Hook’s assessment of the photograph Waterbearer addresses the way

Simpson handles issues of history and memory as they pertain to the

African American experience.



Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Screen 16, no. 3

(Fall 1975).

A seminal essay that introduced the term “male gaze.” Mulvey shows

how film reinforces male dominance.

Pollack, Barbara. “Turning Down the Stereotypes.” ARTNews (September

2002): 136–39.

A review of Simpson’s work as it relates to the themes of identity and

racial stereotypes.

Ross, Ellen. “Conversation: Ellen Ross with Cindy Sherman and Lorna

Simpson.” Yard (Fall 2004): 22.

Sekula, Allan. “The Body and the Archive.” In The Contest of Meaning:

Critical Histories of Photography, ed. Richard Bolton, pp. 342–88.

Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1989.

An influential essay that argues that the advent of photography facili-

tated the creation of racial stereotypes and led to the practice of racial

profiling. Sekula also examines how viewers are conditioned to infer

an individual’s moral and psychological character from his portrait.

Wilkes, Andrew. “Lorna Simpson.” Aperture (Fall 1993): 14–23.

Includes an interview with Simpson and a review of her installations

and photographs of the ’80s and early ’90s.

Wilson, Judith. “Beauty Rites: Towards an Anatomy of Culture in African

American Women’s Art.” The International Review of African American

Art 11, no. 3 (1994): 11–17.

An examination of the work of African American artists on hair

aesthetics as they relate to African American identities. The author

discusses Simpson’s representation and use of hair as a marker of

identity in her work.

web re Source S

Albright-Knox Art Gallery


Includes an introduction on the artist’s work and suggestions for

hands-on activities and discussion.



Contains various links related to Simpson, including a list of Museums

and Galleries where her work may be found.

CIRCA Art Magazine


A detailed review of the 2003 Lorna Simpson retrospective at the Irish

Museum of Modern Art in Dublin.

The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago



This teacher resource produced by The Museum of Contemporary Art

Chicago includes short biographical information on Simpson, a short

discussion of She (1992), and ideas for classroom activities.

Sean Kelly Gallery


A biography of Simpson covering the years 1960-80, an extensive

bibliography of articles on the artist, and a list of public collections

where her art can be seen.

The Walker Art Center


Contains the presentation of Scenarios: Recent Work by Lorna Simpson,

an exhibition at the Walker Art Center (April 11–July 11, 1999).

Includes an excerpt from an interview with the artist on her video



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