Mandingo / DON'T TREAD ON ME

Artist: Pat Phillips
painting | Acrylic, oil pastel, airbrush, and aerosol paint on canvas | 1321x1524mm | 2018

Pat Phillips’s paintings combine personal and historical imagery into surreal juxtapositions, drawing on his experience living in the American South to meditate on complex questions of race, class, labor, and a militarized culture. In The Farm—a title that refers to the Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola, and the 1998 documentary of the same name—hands gripping hoes suggest the continuum between plantation slave labor and the labor of imprisoned people today. The repetition of the phrase “don’t tread on me” in two of the works references the Gadsden flag, which was created during the American Revolution and has resurfaced as a symbol of the Tea Party, a conservative political group. For the mural Phillips incorporated fencing, simultaneously symbolizing incarceration, the insulation of suburbia, and the U.S.–Mexico border. The fence also partially obscures images of a holster, a gun, and tear-gas canisters; while all of these objects suggest a violence that runs through American culture and our institutions, Phillips leaves it to the viewer to determine their significance. (Image courtesy of the artist)


Whitney Biennial 2019 | 2019.05.17 - 2019.09.22 | Whitney Museum of American Art(New York City, NY, United States)