In Dawoud Bey’s work — seen in Providence, Rhode Island — the four girls and two boys killed in the 16th Street Baptist Bombing in Birmingham, Alabama are given adult analogs. Their adult selves serve as their own buddy cop to their childhood selves. They are here to speak, but they don’t have to speak. The light can come in through the windows all it wants. The sounds of the city can pass as much as it wants. They are the photographs on the wall. We stop. We stare. The security guard observes those observing the work. A nearby sign says, ‘NO SHIRT, NO SHOES, YOU’RE PROBABLY RICH.’
Another image in another place: Sam McKinnis’s Northern Lights stands opposite Night Texter, as if to say, “It’s no big deal, you know — we see the Northern Lights every night. We see those deep purple swaths of night. We see the skin glow orange.”
A painting entitled American Idol — where the idol stands just on the verge of looking like Lana Del Ray — stands near TM Davy’s Portrait Of Darkness, and it begins to look like the two are on the verge of singing a duet together. Erwstwhile traditional romantic paintings of the landscape fracture in Wilhelm Neuseer’s work. We stand in the middle of the room waiting for the faun from Pan’s Labyrnth to emerge and begin unfurling its arms in the directions of key works of art it wishes for us to observe. But, we stutter, but we never sent a child into the Labyrinth.
And yet we have clearly sent a child into this figurative labyrinth, as ghost doubles sit alongside their child analogs; as lights emanate from a source that shouldn’t emanate light; as we continually joke about ‘the darkest timeline’; as the traditional markers of white supremacy dress themselves up in new colors and in new styles, as was put on evident display in the opening exhibition of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Richmond, Virginia in the spring of 2018.
And so while we read Ladan Osman noting that the point of Donald Glover’s “This is America” video is that “our inattentiveness is designed to maintain a system that allows some citizens to act as a virus, while others become viral in death”; while we read Benjamin Balthaser noting that “the power of Diamond Reynolds’s video … lies not only in her remarkable courage, but also in the fact that she never surrenders her narrative ,” we should also note that these images also tell us that we sometimes send our children deep into the labyrinth — where sixth graders go on CNN to tell us that ‘if they’re going to go down, they’re going to go down fighting’ — and that we should be doing everything in our power to get them out.