Kerry James Marshall (American, b. 1955)
Century Twenty One 1992
Acrylic and collage on canvas
Museum purchase with funds provided by the Edward J. Gallagher, Jr. Memorial Fund
Throughout the south, fields were used as burial grounds for enslaved people and their descendants. Private development has paid little respect to these areas and has either destroyed or made visitation to them nearly impossible. Perhaps this painting references the anguish of the spirits of the dead.
However, this painting also calls to mind the biblical Garden of Eden as a metaphor for the American dream. “Eden” is the tract home suburban life, indicated by the repetitive birdhouses and the white picket fence. Marshall’s method of collaging the surface with rectangular pieces of paper echoes the parceling of land for development. This middle-class “paradise” is not accessible for this man—the houses are out of reach, and the land has gone up in flames.