Meet The Artist: Alfredo Jaar on Life Magazine, April 191968

  • When Chilean-born artist Alfredo Jaar moved to New York in 1982, he was troubled to discover that racial tensions still ran high long after the civil rights movement had passed its zenith. In Life Magazine, April 19, 1968, he manipulated the iconic photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s funeral procession to highlight the disparity between the number of black and white mourners. Jaar's decision to present the work as a triptych, a traditional format for Christian altarpieces, helps identify King as a martyr.

    ALFREDO JAAR: One aspect of my work is about what I call the politics of images. Images are important, and they affect the way we understand the world.

    My name is Alfredo Jaar, and I'm here at the Smithsonian American Art Museum to discuss my work.

    I started looking at the media—at the media landscape. That's when I decided to do a series of work about Life magazine. I started looking at this magazine for a long time and did a lot of research, and that's when I found this image.

    The structure of the work is very simple. I just show the double page where the photograph was printed. I do not hide anything. You can see the thickness of the magazine, you can see the crease, and I've always used triptychs. It has been a part of my structural device that I've used in many, many other works. I like the one, two, three. The total is much more than its parts. I just wanted to make people see better, and I came up with this device of these black dots and red dots to simply show the proportion between African Americans attending the funeral and white people attending the funeral.

    So that's why I work with images. They influence the way we think, they influence the way we imagine the world, they influence our knowledge of the world.

    These images come to us without mercy, without warning. We are bombarded by thousands of images at every moment of our lives. A lot of my work responds to that reality.
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