Strange Fruit: Channel 42

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    Photo: Stephen Pitkin / Pitkin Studio
Spray can tops, clothes, wood, artificial flowers, found metal, wire, tools, oil, enamel, spray paint, and Splash Zone compound on canvas on wood
99 x 78 x 26 inches
Collection of
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco museum purchase American Art Trust Fund and gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation

In this work, an almost life-sized figure of a man is hung by the neck from a television antenna, a modern-day lynching tree, which rises up from the top of a white canvas. The dangling, blood-stained figure, arms limp at his side and mouth gaping, wears a white shirt and tie as if dressed up for his own wake. Suspended across the bottom of the canvas, near his feet, are bunches of tattered old pieces of fabric. Torn and ravaged, these pieces of ragged cloth are a frequent symbol used by Thornton Dial to convey the mistreatment of black people within history—man’s inhumanity to man. It recounts Dial’s own denigration and persecution as an artist by the media over the years. More specifically, it is a reference to his “execution” by the CBS news show 60 Minutes, which almost ruined his career. Presenting Dial as a naïve innocent who couldn’t fend for himself in the modern, civilized world, the show’s creators positioned themselves as saviors of these unwitting and exploited souls.