The Strangest Fruit

Vincent Valdez

Exhibition: May 8 – Aug 31, 2014

The Strangest Fruit is a series of large paintings that is inspired by the lost/erased history of lynched Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in the state of Texas from the late 1800’s well into the 1930’s. The title is taken from the poem Strange Fruit (Abel Meripool) that was made famous by Billie Holiday’s recording in the 1930’s. The poem/song lyrics present haunting visuals of black Americans, using the metaphor of “strange fruit” to describe the victims who were hanged from trees.

I adapted the lyrics and slightly altered the text to describe a Texas landscape, which sprouts “brown bodies” instead of “black bodies.” The title, The Strangest Fruit, suggests that this sinister portion of American history goes much further than we have been told. The subject of Latino lynchings is almost entirely unknown, unheard, and unspoken of in the United States.

Although this subject is inspired by a specific history, I was more concerned with identifying and creating images that speak of the present. These portraits depict the distorted bodies of contemporary young brown males, distinguished by their clothing, hairstyles, skin color, sneakers, age, etc. All of these specific “markers” tend to lead to a hysteria that targets and stereotypes the bodies of young minority males in American society. At first glance, the painted bodies appear to dangle on the canvas. They can also be interpreted as levitated figures, caught somewhere in between life and death, reality and illusion, remembrance and erasure, heaven and hell. They float against an entirely blank background, struggling to remain in focus and straining to exist. They have no history or foundation, no story to be told, no voice to be heard.

Presenting this historical subject in a contemporary context enables me to present the noose as a metaphor and to suggest that the threat of the noose still looms over the heads of the young Latino male in American society. The punishment and fate of the noose has been disguised and resold to the American public but still carries the weight of its harsh justice to a disproportionate number of minority American males. Institutions and methods such as: mass incarceration and for- profit prison industries, the endless American drug war along with its legal complexities and hypocracies, the war on terror, the military industrial complex, the criminalization of poverty, broken educational systems and biased justice systems, stop and frisk programs and public acceptance of racial profiling, mass deportation and non citizen hysteria, police brutality and oppression, a racially divided and unbalanced media, etc, all lend themselves to a fearful and forgetful American future.

Like the erased bodies of the past, these present-day individuals face the threat of a similar fate in America, the more that they struggle to truly break free, the tighter the noose will choke.


Vincent Valdez

San Antonio, Texas, USA

Born 1977, San Antonio, Texas
Valdez grew up in San Antonio, TX and demonstrated talent for drawing at an early age. He received a full scholarship to The Rhode Island School of Design where he earned his BFA in 2000. In 2004 at age 26, Stations, Valdez’s suite of monumental charcoal drawings, was shown at the McNay Museum in Texas. He was the youngest artist to have a solo exhibition at the McNay. Exhibition venues include: The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Snite Museum of Art, The Frye Museum, The Mexican Museum of National Art Chicago, The Parsons Museum in Paris, The Smithsonian Museum of American Art, OSDE Buenos Aires, The Laguna Art Museum, The Bell Gallery at Brown University and others. A recipient of the Skowhegan School of Painting ’05 and The Vermont Studio Center ’11, and the Kunstlerhaus Bethania Berlin Residency ‘14, Vincent currently resides and works in Firestation #15, his restored 1928 Firestation San Antonio, TX.

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