The Harlem Six was the name applied to six men in Harlem, New York, who were put on trial in the spring of 1965. Their arrests and subsequent trial stemmed from their connection with an incident known as the Little Fruit Stand Riot. Twelve days later, a couple who owned a used clothing store in Harlem were viciously attacked: Margit Sugar was fatally stabbed, and her husband Frank Sugar was badly injured. Daniel Hamm, who was 19 at the time of the recording, described how he further maimed his already broken body to persuade the police how badly he had been beaten in jail. At the beginning of the piece, he says, "I had to, like, open the bruise up, and let some of the bruise blood come out to show them" Reich then used the sentence in a form of collage, looping and shift syncing the words over each other until they became indecipherable and a rhythmic tonal quality of sound remained.
The similarities between Reich’s sound work and the printed text piece produced by Ligon are electric. The left of the canvas has the words ‘Come Out to Show Them’ densely repeated, layered over and over, creating an intriguing sense of abstraction which almost simulates acoustic playback. Come Out Study #16 flows lyrically over the canvas, with the screaming intensity of the layered words on the left only broken by a cavernous solid space, almost like a deep inhale before the words continue, clear and coherent in a sense of calm reflection. Ligon’s early compositional structure which developed into the style we see in the Come Out Study #16 series clearly mirrors the joke paintings of Richard Prince. It has been said that “If Prince’s paintings used deadpan shtick to critique American society, Ligon twisted this precedent to get a deeper, more difficult truths” (Scott Rothkopf, Glenn Ligon: American, New York 2011, p. 32).
Come Out Study #16 represents Ligon’s dramatic demonstration of passion and ferocious cry of racial injustice. By citing literary and critical texts focusing on sexual and racial oppression, Ligon forces the viewer to witness the violent reality of social depravation that he experienced as a gay black man growing up in New York in the 60s and 70s. Using this platform to delve into the nature of identity and inequality, Ligon is able to reconsider and re-present American history.
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