The Great Enemy of Truth
Hand cut set of porcelain, packaging, glass, wood
“For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie—deliberate, contrived, and dishonest—but the myth—persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic.” –JFK
In The Great Enemy of Truth, Elizabeth Alexander edited a full set of Confederate commemorative plates and packaging by extracting the Confederate symbols, leaving only the American landscape between the voids. The dust and text from each removal were harvested and are displayed below its plate of origin to show that history cannot be erased; there is still a residue.
When Alexander stumbled across this set of plates in a tiny junk shop it felt like a call to action: particularly because they were within her visual language of interrupting found porcelain.
She has ancestors that fought for the Confederacy. She did not learn about it until after she made this work. Her family does not talk about it, and when they do it is explained as if they were tricked, or defending their land. The thought that living in the North was a pass for reckoning rapidly dissolved as Alexander examined more about systemic racism. She was taught to live with empathy and kindness and believed that was enough.
These plates should not have existed. They were printed in 1971, long after the Civil War, and created for people to hang in their homes, to exemplify a subtle form of oppression and manipulation, to pass dangerous values down to future generations aided by collectible packaging. This work is as much a rejection of systems of oppression as it is a reckoning about her own place in those systems, and the sanitized education and experience that blinded her. The truth is messy, and the dust still remains.
Elizabeth Alexander, The Great Enemy of Truth, 2019. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Elizabeth Alexander is an interdisciplinary artist specializing in sculptures and installations made using deconstructed domestic materials. She holds degrees in sculpture from the Cranbrook Academy of Art and Massachusetts College of Art, where she discovered the complex nature of dissecting objects of nostalgia. Alexander’s work has exhibited at venues such as the Museum of Art and Design, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and is included in permanent collections at the Crystal Bridges Museum and the Mint Museum. She is currently an Associate Professor at the UNC School of the Arts.