Prop Master exhibition text, 2009, by Laurel Frederickson
In his large-scale video projection Welcome Home Juan Logan samples and alters imagery and sound from D. W. Griffin’s silent film Birth of a Nation (1915), Walt Disney’s live action/animation feature Song of the South (1946), Disney cartoons, footage of a 1920 Ku Klux Klan rally at the Washington Monument, and engravings of the 1861 bombardment of Fort Sumter, the latter selected from the archives of the Gibbes Museum of Art. The feature films are infamous for their systematic use of racial stereotypes. Both are also known for artistic innovation. Griffith’s film sympathetically depicted the Ku Klux Klan, implicitly giving cultural support to lynching by vilifying black males as sexually predatory and dangerous towards white women, enflaming white supremacist passions. The Disney studio based Song of the South on Uncle Remus stories in which a stereotypic Uncle Tom-like character recounts the adventures of Br'er Rabbit and other animal characters. While actors play Uncle Remus and the white plantation family, the animals are animated. The cartoon fish that repeatedly leaps into the air refers to ‘fish tales’ that romanticize the South just as the song “Everybody has a Laughing Place” contests idealized accounts of “Dixie.” Denigrating stereotypes deployed in Song of the South prevented its release (in its entirety) in the U.S, although the song “Zip-a-Dee-Doo- Dah” won the 1947 Academy Award for Best Song.
The blank silhouette that appears on the Wallpaper of Background Material and as the Portrait of Denmark Vesey also frames the scenes and soundtrack sampled in Welcome Home. The title of Logan’s video ironically refers to the words of an older white woman welcoming a white family back to the plantation and its values. Images of a young white woman amidst an army of hooded Klansmen, which celebrates their “protection” of her womanhood, alternates with scenes that include a smiling Uncle Remus, happy in the supposed paternalistic embrace of slavery and Jim Crow, a black “coon” cat running scared from an unseen adversary, Civil War battles, and the face of a young black male, of the present as much as of the past, in the process of being erased. Logan digitally altered the imagery in his video to visually magnify its drama and draw attention to the frightening power of racial caricatures to shape our current perceptions and actions.