American Federation of Arts
A Resource for Educators
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
April 16–July 10, 2006
Miami Art Museum
October 13, 2006–January 21, 2007
Whitney Museum of American Art
February 8–May 6, 2007
Kalamazoo Institute of Arts
May 25–August 19, 2007
Gibbes Museum of Art
Charleston, South Carolina
September 7–December 2, 2007
Please direct questions about these
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
Web Resources 41
Corridor (Phone), 2003
Digital chromatic print mounted to Plexiglas
27 X 72 inches
courtesy the artist and Sean Kelly Gallery,
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
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,
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
2. Lorna Simpson, quoted in Barbara Pollack, “Turning Down the Stereotypes,” ARTNews (September
8 curricuLum connectionS
Below are themes that educators may use to approach the works of art
included in this resource.
• Race and Racism
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.
COnTEmpORARy ARTISTS WhO ExplORE SImIlAR ThEmES
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
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
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:
An Apple site that offers classroom filmmakers iMovie (a film editing
program) editing instruction and ideas for integrating digital media into
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
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
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
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
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
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
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),
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
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.
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
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,
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.
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
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
Activity: Using Images to Build
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
Activity: Using Value to
Aim: To create a cityscape applying the
principles of value to achieve the illusion
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
Capa, Cornell, ed. The Concerned Photographer. New York: Grossman
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
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
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
A seminal essay that introduced the term “male gaze.” Mulvey shows
how film reinforces male dominance.
Pollack, Barbara. “Turning Down the Stereotypes.” ARTNews (September
A review of Simpson’s work as it relates to the themes of identity and
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