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Lorna Simpson’s Waterbearer

LORNA SIMPSON’S PHOTOGRAPH Waterbearer was reproduced in 1987 in one of the early issues of B Culture, a progressive black newspaper of arts and culture that was fresh beyond all belief. For a brief moment in time B Culture was the expressive space for everything radical and black—it was on the edge. Of course, it disappeared. But not before publishing a full-page reproduction of Waterbearer.

Carefully pressing my newspaper copy with a hot iron, to remove all creases, I taped this page on the wall in my study, awed by the grace and profound simplicity of the image: a black woman with disheveled hair, seen from the back, pouring water from a jug and a plastic bottle, one in each hand. Underneath the photograph were the subversive phrases,

She saw him disappear by the river

They asked her to tell what happened

Only to discount her memory.

Subversive because it undoes its own seeming innocence,

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