Silent Landscapes, Textured Memory : Keith Morris Washington's Lynching Paintings
Keith Morris Washington’s landscape paintings have received surprisingly little scholarly attention, and thus the present article aims to address that lack. Primarily, this article argues that in representing landscapes associated with lynchings, Washington’s paintings are a form of cultural memory that helps us apprehend the traumas of the southern past. Rather than presenting us with dead bodies of lynching victims, Washington paints the ‘texture’ of violence and memory in seemingly innocuous rural landscapes. Through his brushwork, framing and visual motifs, Washington reveals what I am calling the ‘after-burn’ of lynching: the way in which it circulates as a kind of haunting and memory that disturbs our gaze. While lynching scholarship has expanded in recent years, there is often a focus – as with other contemporary visual theories – on looking at lynching photographs; we are encouraged by a number of critics to apprehend death directly. This article suggests that Washington’s artwork provides us with another visual mode of apprehending lynching. In registering the texture of violence and memory, and through intimating the presence of corporeality, Washington enables a form of looking that does not re-victimize the victimized. Rather, his visual ethics allows us to both see and not see the deaths of (primarily) African Americans across the nation and region.