For the last three weeks I have been mulling over and discussing recent art narratives that have jostled for reason and perspective in my mind. It started at the Tate with these statements and challenges hanging on the wall:-
I could get on board with some of them and others, well just too subjective. Still, over all, the general take home message rings loud and clear.
It prompted study on women and art through the centuries…It has been an uphill battle for recognition!
It was around this time, I heard of the controversy at the Whitney Gallery USA.
Hmmm! Could another reason women artists struggle to find equal place in the art world be – other women!?
Hannah Black a UK artist, with a group of others, wrote to the curators of The Whitney Gallery for American Art Biennial exhibition, demanding the gallery remove Dana Schutz painting, Open Casket, immediately and furthermore destroy it, so it can never be seen again nor enter the market place or museum.
What!? Why!? I thought only totalitarian regimes make such demands.
It was time for me to find out more.
A few newspapers wrote articles on the show-down. The Observer, printed the headline, Should This Artwork Be Destroyed?
Taking that as a legitimate question – Here’s my answer…
We are ALL one race…we are called the human race. Yes, a diversity of cultures. But we all share much in common, including proud and shameful histories.
It seemed a little odd to me, that a British woman thought to spearhead rage on an American female artist producing American works about America in America!
But here’s why I just have to say, “No!” I do not think the painting should be destroyed. I too, am a mother of a fourteen-year-old boy. There is a special bond between mothers and sons. I thought the painting gave renewed strength to their voice; where the demands to see it destroyed takes away from the powerful actions from the same.
Mamie Till, exposed her deceased son Emmett as a powerful retort, a stark reminder, as a call to decency, a declaration of shame at a cultural and national level beyond the African-American community.
Emmett’s open casket and public funeral became to rallying cry for all decent humanity and an impetus for the civil rights movement in American during the 50’s.
The message I receive from artist Dana Schutz, Open Casket, after its narrative initially and abruptly apprehended me, was, deep thought – haunting thought – and more. It reminded me of, after the holocaust when villagers in Germany were made to walk into the concentration camps and face, really face what they had chosen to ignore.
Dana Schutz Open Casket goes beyond remembrance, it challenges the hardness of man’s heart toward fellow human beings even today.
For me Dana goes still further, Open Casket echoes a mother’s angry, grief saturated roar.
Open Casket tells the inner strength of this mother, devastated, yet not crushed by evil that came her way.
Open Casket belongs to all Americans because it submits to a mother who chose a public funeral over a private one to honour her son, who chose to confront America with the raw image of her beaten son, rather than hide him.
Open casket invites us to join Mamie, pointing a damning finger at the murderers and hateful thinkers and say, NO, we will not go quietly.
Open Casket bought Emmett back to a place of influence.
I ask myself – Does Hannah’s protest disregard this mother’s heart, refusing to hear her cry? Does it prefers to torture the artist with an open letter, bludgeon her work and lynch-mob her career by demanding the work be taken down and not shown anywhere and further, demanding the work be destroyed? Is that because she thinks the white artist flirts? Have we move an inch since the 50’s???
Emmett’s mother bid her precious boy one last voice and this protest seems to me to want to extinguish that voice.
My question Observer – Is racial intolerance trying to ‘do him in’ again some sixty years later?
Well done Dana for reminding us that we are one people on earth.
Well done Dana for highlighting your humanity across cultures.
Well done Dana for you colour blindness and your heart to think good of people.
Well done Dana for giving this boy a living voice for another 6 decades.
Well done Dana for echoing a mother’s cry for her martyred son.
As a mother of 2 boys, I would applaud any artist who took my baton-cry in such a situation, regardless of colour, for colour is only a surface trait. The very point Mamie was trying to get across, Civil Rights movement and Dana is trying to get across. We are all made in the Image of God.
Emmett your name means powerful, entire, universal …and you are still true to your name through Open Casket.
And Emmett your surname Till means People.
You and your mother are Powerful People. You died before I was born but you have touched my life.
Let me leave you with the words of a wise woman – powerful guidance for all people.