Related to American popular culture, the image of the cowboy is an archetype produced by advertising, the cinema, and the media that nevertheless hides an important part of its history, since its origin lies in colonialism and in a mixture of races, cultures, and provenances. In Young Cowboy Gazing, Gala Knörr directly incorporates images inspired from the 5-minute film Blue (2022), specially made for Hulu’s series Your Attention Please (2022) and directed by Queer Black American artist and director dayday, who offers an intimate portrait of bull rider Ezekiel “Blue” Mitchell and the legacy of Black American cowboys. In dayday’s film, the protagonist first appears from the back looking into the pastoral horizon and then facing the viewer with a solemn stare, the latter featured in Knörr’s painting. Knörr investigates, retrieves, and reinterprets some of these forgotten figures in her iconography as part of her larger investigation of popular culture imagery in a post-internet era. In an edifying and recent rectification with dayday, recognizing Knörr’s oversight of their film as an inspiration for her work, the Basque artist wishes to acknowledge dayday’s artistic contribution foregrounding the omission of the legacy of African American cowboys in the fabric of the American West, which shines light on the multilayered narratives of racism of this particular topic in US history.
BLUE (2022) tells the origin of Ezekiel “Blue” Mitchell, a professional self-taught Black bull rider, and the discrimination and erasure Black rodeo athletes have faced in America. In the film, I utilize the aesthetics of traditional portrait paintings to invoke history. I placed the Black cowboy figure in the center of the frame, back into its proper historical positioning. Through his gaze, Ezekiel simultaneously acknowledges the viewer and becomes a proxy for those long-forgotten cowboys.
The camera's stillness, Mitchell’s gaze, and the recreation of historical moments are all tools employed in the film that allow me to make direct parallels to the past. A pivotal part of this work is acknowledging the full lives of Ezekiel, and the Black cowboys before him, reassuring that they are not erased nor forgotten.
On Friday, July 8, 2022, I was informed of two paintings, Young Cowboy and Young Cowboy Gazing (2022), by Spanish artist Gala Knörr, that appropriated images from my film BLUE (2022). By not acknowledging BLUE as her source material, Knörr’s omission erases the intentional work that the film demands of the viewer and further perpetuates the violent act of abstracting the Black cowboy from history. By allowing viewers to see BLUE in the context of Knörr’s Young Cowboy Gazing, the two works open up a larger conversation about the reclamation of black stories and histories.