"It’s very important to me that the subjects of these paintings are modern. It’s the idea of how, in America, the noose has evolved in various ways. It’s no longer a rope over a tree, it’s a slow death of incarceration, drug wars, combat wars, poverty, lack of education, and racial profiling."
Visit Vincent Valdez in his studio as he talks about The Strangest Fruit as well as another work, John. Valdez frequently draws upon events and symbolism from the past to address contemporary issues. Notice how he talks about the concept behind much of his work: “the past meets the present.”
Learn more about the song “Strange Fruit” to better understand how Vincent Valdez used the imagery of “strange fruit” hanging from the trees (the victims of lynching) and reinterpreted the concrete noose of the past as a metaphorical noose in the present.
- Strange Fruit: A protest song with enduring relevance
The Billie Holiday song “Strange Fruit,” first recorded in 1939, uses the image of hanging fruit as a symbol for the brutal lynchings of African Americans in the South.
- Kanye West’s ‘Blood On The Leaves’ And The History Of ‘Strange Fruit’
Singer Kanye West reinterprets the song “Strange Fruit” for modern times by using the lyrics in a new way to talk about the issues he cares about—race, identity, and materialism.
Go to Vincent Valdez’s website to look at the other paintings in The Strangest Fruit series. Notice the contemporary clothes, but the historical postures. Also notice the impact of looking at the entire series as opposed to just one of the paintings, as you did at the beginning of this session.
Next, read the statement Valdez wrote about the series. Notice that he writes more about his concept than his artistic techniques. Why do you think that is? Many of the contemporary artists you’ve explored in the course talk equally about their techniques, processes, and concepts.
Now think about your own art and what you can learn from Vincent Valdez. What are the societal issues you care about, and how does Valdez’s work inspire you artistically to tackle those issues? Be sure to jot down all of your ideas in your sketchbook.
Meet Fahamu Pecou, the artist who created the other painting in this session. Pecou frequently references black American popular culture in his art. As you watch the interview, notice how he found a larger societal context through his personal experience of parenting his son.