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38 Lincolns: The Fight Against Fake History

For those of you who don’t know this, on December 26, 1862, Abraham Lincoln – the “Great Emancipator” – ordered the largest mass execution in American History.

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You heard me.  Lincoln ordered the execution of 38 innocent Native Americans to steal the land of the Santee Sioux and to appease Minnesotan politicians.  The Santee Sioux Tribe is part of the Great Sioux Nation, which originally occupied lands that extended from eastern Minnesota to the Big Horn Mountains. The Black Hills of South Dakota sit in the center of the Sioux Nation’s former lands and are sacred to Lakota and Dakota people. The 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty greatly reduced the Great Sioux Nation’s lands. In 1874, General Custer and his 7th Cavalry entered the Black Hills and found gold, violating the Treaty. The ore’s discovery precipitated a gold rush that led to the battle of Little Bighorn. The Sioux refused to sell or lease the Black Hills and continue to maintain that people living there are violating their Treaty.

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My series called 38 Lincoln Paintings is a reminder to this country of what happens when fake news becomes fake history.


38 Lincoln Paintings, Clark V. Fox
[last exhibited at the Biggs Museum of American Art]

Others have explained 38 Lincolns as a way for me to express a new historical narrative.  I agree with that view.

Lincoln wasn’t what I was taught he was.  And my work questions the lies we learn as history.

Here’s an excerpt from Earnest Irony: The Deadpan Passions of Clark V. Fox by Emily Warner:

His 38 Lincoln Paintings (2006-2008) are an homage not to the Civil War President but to the 38 Dakota tribes people hanged in a mass execution under Lincoln’s orders at the end of the 1862 Dakota Wars. Each canvas in the Lincoln series derives from the same iconic image and is enlivened, like the Washington portrait, with colored backgrounds. You notice tiny details, and there are subtle, even cunning sleights of hand; most of the Lincolns, for example, are silkscreened, but a few have been hand-painted in a silkscreen manner. The series owes much in style and subject to works by artists like Warhol and Tom Wesselmann. Clark, though, is less interested in exploring the visuality of commodity culture per se than he is in using its rhetoric to unearth specific historical narratives. If he empties out the icon, it is only ultimately to assign it a new meaning.

Alongside its ironic sting, the Lincoln series suggests a subtle disappointment. Clark was awed by the Lincoln Memorial when he first saw it as a high school student in Washington, D.C., deeming the seated Lincoln figure “the most moving piece of American sculpture.” In fact, his choice of a source image for the 38 Lincolns (an 1864 Anthony Berger photograph) is based on its visual consonances with the monumental power of Daniel Chester French’s sculpture. The series is thus a memorial not only to lost lives absented from history, but to a former faith in images of power.

The struggle goes on: