Friday, March 24, 2017

Recently, activists and black artists are protesting a painting by Dana Schultz, who based her artwork on the portraits of Emmett Till, that's included in the Biennial exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, in New York.

"Open Casket"
Dana Schultz (2016)
Biennial Exhibitions in the Whitney Museum of American Art
All Credit Goes to the Artist

Here is more from The New York Times:

"An African-American artist, Parker Bright, has conducted peaceful protests in front of the painting since Friday, positioning himself, sometimes with a few other protesters, in front of the work to partly block its view. He has engaged museum visitors in discussions about the painting while wearing a T-shirt with the words 'Black Death Spectacle' on the back. Another protester, Hannah Black, a British-born black artist and writer working in Berlin, has written a letter to the biennial’s curators, Mia Locks and Christopher Y. Lew, urging that the painting be not only removed from the show but also destroyed.

'The subject matter is not Schutz’s,” Ms. Black wrote in a Facebook message that has been signed by more than 30 other artists she identifies as nonwhite. “White free speech and white creative freedom have been founded on the constraint of others, and are not natural rights. The painting must go.” She added that “contemporary art is a fundamentally white supremacist institution despite all our nice friends.'

The protest has found traction on Twitter, where some commenters have called for destruction of the painting and others have focused on what they view as an ill-conceived attempt by Ms. Schutz to aestheticize an atrocity."

The curation of the Biennial Exhibition is extremely significant, as highlighted by Hyperallergic:

"The 2017 Whitney Biennial is more diverse than the last: about half of this year’s included artists are female, and about half are non-white. Curated by [Mia] Locks and [Christopher Y.] Lew — the youngest curators to organize this long-running exhibition to date, and both Asian-American — the show grapples with current social issues and identity politics; its artists depict the horrors of hate crime, police brutality, and gun violence...Yesterday, [Parker] Bright met with Locks and Lew. 'Nothing was resolved, but it was one of the best conversations I’ve ever had,' he told Hyperallergic. 'It means a lot. I never thought I’d get that close. I don’t think the Met would talk to me, or a lot of other big institutions.' In light of this year’s Biennial, however, Bright says he would avoid working with the Whitney if given the option, and encourages other artists of color to consider their affiliations carefully. “If anything is going to change, it has to come from the white art community,” he said. “We need white allies to help stand up for us, but not talk over us.”

The curators also highlight the importance of empathy:

“The 2017 Whitney Biennial brings to light many facets of the human experience, including conditions that are painful or difficult to confront such as violence, racism, and death...Many artists in the exhibition push in on these issues, seeking empathetic connections in an especially divisive time.” It’s easy to be become dismissive or contemptuous of either side of the fence, and continued discourse is our only hope. In these dangerous Trump times, if we don’t find ways to talk to each other, we are in deep trouble."

It is important to know how to read and understand what a white institution does when it brings on, for the first time, Asian American curators by giving them seemingly a free hand in their curatorial choices. These two curators were simply following orders, yet they are the ones who are receiving the harder-end of the fallout of the controversy. Thankfully, they are trying to communicate with the different community members in order to expand their perspectives on the issue.

Ultimately, the issues surrounding the painting are extremely complex and will most likely not be resolved for a long time: it's a progressive debate that will only continue to develop as human consciousness does. In the end, there are two possible outcomes: either the protesters will give up, or they will continue to advocate for the painting's removal until it is done.

The full Hyperallergic article can be viewed here:
Different Themes
Written by Lovely

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