Steve McQueen: Lynching Tree
Across a diverse body of work spanning thirty years, Black British artist and filmmaker Steve McQueen (b. 1969, London) has documented stories of incarceration and violence, intimacy and vulnerability. On October 28 and 29, the Yale Center for British Art will convene an international symposium that investigates the range of McQueen’s artistic and film practice. To coincide with and precede the program, a single work by the artist will be on view.
“Lynching Tree” (2013) is a color photograph mounted in a lightbox that depicts an old tree with thick, sprawling branches. The tree stands in a clearing littered with leaves and grass and is surrounded by bushes and scrawny saplings. Only the title of the image reveals the horror of this apparently pastoral scene. The tree was used as a gallows for enslaved Black people; the unmarked graves of victims lie beneath it.
McQueen took the photograph on the outskirts of New Orleans in 2012, at one of the filming locations for “12 Years a Slave” (2013). In the film, Solomon Northup passes by the tree, knowing that he easily could have been one of the two young men whose murder he witnesses. In “Lynching Tree,” McQueen memorializes the lives and deaths of Black people in the antebellum South. Like many landscape paintings in the YCBA collection, the photograph simultaneously reveals and obscures the violence of British colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade.
The installation of the photograph is accompanied by a reading room where visitors can read Northup’s book and related materials; learn more about McQueen’s work, the film, and the historical context of the events they depict; and simply sit and reflect. Museum educators will be present on weekends to discuss the work and answer questions.