Kanye West-Approved Steve McQueen Photograph Debuts at Tate Britain

Kanye West performing "Blood on the Leaves" with McQueen's Lynching Tree as a backdrop.
Photo: via MTV
Steve McQueen on set for <i>12 Years a Slave</i><br>Photo: via <i>Collider</i></br>

Steve McQueen on set for 12 Years a Slave.
Photo: Collider.

Tate Britain’s newest exhibition, titled “Fighting History,” brings Steve McQueen’s Lynching Tree, a photograph of a poplar tree once used for hanging slaves, to the UK for the very first time.

The British artist and Oscar winner found and photographed the tree while scouting locations near New Orleans for his renowned 2013 full-length film, 12 Years a Slave (see Oscar Puts Steve McQueen Beyond Contemporary Art).

The loaded photograph has only been shown in an art context previously as part of McQueen’s 2013 retrospective at the Schaulager in Basel.

<i>Lynching Tree</i>, by Steve McQueen, 2013 <br>Photo: via Kanye West's Twitter</br>

Lynching Tree (2013), photograph, by Steve McQueen.
Photo: Kanye West/Twitter.

But that same year, Kanye West also used the image as a backdrop for his performance of Blood On The Leaves at the MTV Video Music Awards, which also features a sample from Nina Simone’s powerful cover of Abel Meeropol and Billie Holiday’s 1939 song, “Strange Fruit.”

In 2013, West put the image on his homepage, explaining, “those who were murdered are buried in the ground around the tree.”

Kanye West performing "Blood on the Leaves" with McQueen's <i>Lynching Tree</i> as a backdrop. <br>Photo: via MTV</br>

Kanye West performing “Blood on the Leaves” with McQueen’s Lynching Tree as a backdrop.
Photo: MTV.

“It is a very simple and direct image,” Tate curator Greg Sullivan told the Independent. “It evokes history so effectively without any people in it.”

McQueen’s Lynching Tree is now hanging at Tate Britain next to paintings by John Singleton Copley, JMW Turner, Richard Hamilton, and Dexter Dalwood.

“Fighting History” is on view at Tate Britain, London, from June 9-September 13, 2015.

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