Magazine article Artforum International

Lorna Simpson: Waterbearer

Magazine article Artforum International

Lorna Simpson: Waterbearer

Article excerpt

Lorna Simpson's photograph Waterbearer was reproduced in 1987 in one of the early issues of B Culture, a progressive black newspaper of arts and culture that was fresh beyond all belief. For a brief moment in time B Culture was the expressive space for everything radical and black--it was on the edge. Of course, it disappeared. But not before publishing a full-page reproduction on Waterbearer.

Carefully pressing my newspaper copy with a hot iron, to remove all creases, I tapped this page on the wall in my study, awed by the grace and profound simplicity of the image: a black woman with disheveled hair, seen from the back, pouring water from a jug and a plastic bottle, one in each hand. Underneath the photograph were the subverdsive phrases,

She saw him disappear by the river They asked her to tell what happened Only to discount her memory.

Subversive because it undoes its own seeming innocense, 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. It invites us to consider the production of history as a cultural text--a narrative uncovering repressed or forgotten memory. And it declares the existence of subjugated knowledge.

Here in this image the keeper of history, the griot, the one who bears water as life and blessing, is a black woman. Her knowledge threatens--cannot be heard. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.