The Afro-American artistic community is demanding the destruction of a painting of a black teenager killed by Suprematists in 1955.
Does a white artist have the right to represent the corpse of a black man? This is the issue of a debate raging in the artistic community since the opening of the Whitney Museum Biennale in New York. The object of the discord, Open Casket, a painting by Dana Schutz is inspired by a photo of the disfigured face of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy tortured and killed in 1955 by white supremacists in Mississippi. An image become an icon of civil rights.
But we do not touch the icons without permission, believes the black artistic community. On the day of the opening, March 17, the New York artist Parker Bright stood before the table to block the view. With this argument: Whites do not have to circulate images of racist violence. Her sister Hannah Black also raised her voice in an open letter published on Facebook, signed by about twenty artists, calling for the removal and destruction of the painting. No more no less ! "It is unacceptable for a white man to turn black suffering into profit and spectacle," she wrote. And to continue: "The freedom of white speech, the white creative freedom is based on the constraint of others. It's not about natural rights. "
"I know what it's like to be a mother. Emmett was the only child of Mamie Till. The very idea that something is happening to your child is impossible. Dana Schutz
Thus, no one has found fault with the work of Henry Taylor, also exposed to this biennial, representing the murder of Philando Castile, in 2016, by a police officer from Minnesota. Why would this painting be more tolerable thanOpen Casket ? Because this African-American artist can identify with Philando Castile, Parker Bright replies. On the other hand, he continues, a Blanche, who does not know in her flesh the violence done to blacks does not have to express herself in their name.
In response to this controversy, Dana Schutz admitted "Not knowing what it's like to be Black in America". But, she wrote in a statement released immediately, "I know what it's like to be a mother. Emmett was the only child of Mamie Till. The very idea that something is happening to your child is impossible. Their suffering is our suffering ». Asked by the site specializing in Hyperallergic art, she also said she understood the anger of his critics, before adding to be opposed to any censorship and destruction of work.
The hallali suffered by Dana Schutz caused Coco Fusco to react. In an article published on March 27, by Hyperallergic, this artist of Cuban origin warns against any dogmatism, white or black: "Hannah Black and her friends are on the wrong side of history, on the side of the Phalangists who burn the books, authoritarian regimes that censor and imprison artists, religious fundamentalists who prohibit works in the name of God. "
On March 23, the case rebounded. Several news sites published a letter of apology in which Dana Schutz made her mea culpa and solemnly solicited the withdrawal of the work. Boom! This mail, quickly removed from the Web, turned out to be a fake, the email address of the artist was hacked.