Printed by Conveyor Studio, 2019
Edition of 100, signed and numbered; 10 x 10 in.; 126 pp. plus endpapers
Paperback; foil-stamped, debossed cover and spine
Red Summer — Artist Book
When over twenty-five race riots, most started by white mobs, broke out across the U.S. in 1919, civil-rights activist James Weldon Johnson dubbed the bloody period the “Red Summer.” The artist book Red Summer looks at that year, which marked the deadliest period of white-on-black terrorism in American history. Opening with an illustrated introduction by Casey Ruble, the book features duotone reproductions of the forty-seven works from Ruble’s 2016–19 Red Summer series, as well as an essay by author and critical theorist Arlene Keizer.
The year 1919 was also when the Smithsonian Institution began planning its National Portrait Gallery. From its inception, the museum’s mission has been to “acquire and display portraits of men and women who have made significant contributions to the history, development, and culture of the people of the United States.” Yet all of the subjects in the collection from 1919 are white, and the few with any connection to the racial tensions of the time came down on the wrong side of that history. This exclusion of people of color not only evidences the racial bias of the time but also, as a historical record, continues to perpetuate it.
Functioning as a kind of anti-portraiture, Ruble’s Red Summer series re-renders, in ink on paper, the forty-seven paintings, drawings, prints, and photographs in the National Portrait Gallery’s collection from the year 1919, but with the sitter of the portrait redacted, leaving only a ghostly outline. An image of Woodrow Wilson attending a ceremony outside the White House becomes a vacant sidewalk festooned in American flags; a painting of General Pershing witnessing the signing of the treaty that ended World War I becomes an empty Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles. These intentional erasures reorient our gaze away from the individuals who have been canonized as important historical figures and turn it toward the space surrounding them. The works thereby challenge the dominant narrative of our country’s past and implicitly ask: Whom have we been missing?
Arlene Keizer’s essay “What Will the Art of Freedom Look Like?” argues that early twentieth-century lynchings were a specifically modern phenomenon, rather than a relic of a barbarous past, and links African American critic Houston A. Baker’s analysis of the dual, counter-hegemonic strategies of “mastery of form” and “deformation of mastery” to Ruble’s work and other projects that pay homage to “generations of black artists who have ‘changed the joke and slipped the yoke’ of the dominant culture’s misrepresentation of their abilities and cultural history.” Keizer’s essay forcefully demonstrates that in talking about the year 1919, we also talk about today.
Arlene Keizer, Chair and Professor of Humanities and Media Studies at Pratt Institute, is a scholar in the fields of African Diaspora literary and cultural studies, critical theory, feminist theory—especially black feminist theory—and psychoanalysis. The author of the monograph Black Subjects: Identity Formation in the Contemporary Narrative of Slavery (Cornell University Press), she has also published articles and essays in a range of journals including American Literary History, African American Review, American Literature, and PMLA. Keizer holds a doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in English and Creative Writing from Stanford University. Her publications also include poetry, film reviews, and experimental criticism.