Notes in Justification of Putting the Audience Through a Difficult Evening

Wallace’s notes touched upon the notion of intellectual property which reminded me of Dana Schutz’s “Open Casket” controversy from the Whitney Biennial last year.

Image via Spike Art Magazine

It was a painting that depicts the mutilated face of 14 year old Emmet Till who was brutally killed by the police after being falsely acclaimed of flirting with a married white woman in  1955. Till’s family decided to leave the casket open during the funeral to urge the world to recognize racial violence.

Criticism exploded when Schutz made this painting which was shown in the Whitney Biennial 2017. It was perceived as racial insensitive because Schutz, a white woman artist, could not possibly understand black suffrage hence should not be making work that touches upon things she did not own even though Schutz claimed her ownership of the painting as the suffering of a mother losing her only child. I understand both sides of arguments and I think it is a very difficult subject to work with in art. Certain subject matters might be intuitive for you but you must always inquire intellectual clarity.

Wallace raised a few questions that are helpful to consider when making work for discomfort:

What gives me the right to ask these questions? What gives me the right even to think about such things, to write about such things? I’m not a victim, a survivor. I haven’t suffered.

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