A controversial gallery exhibition was taken down inside 5 days of its debut at Arkansas Tech College’s (ATU) Norman Corridor Gallery after a number of college students of shade deemed it “racially insensitive.” Following the complaints, Dominique Simmons, a White artist from Little Rock, Arkansas, reportedly took again her art work, which addressed racial injustices within the South, and the exhibition was canceled on January 14.
Simmons’s exhibition was centered on “reminiscences of objects and reminiscences of previous occasions,” in response to her assertion hooked up to one of many gallery’s partitions. The offending works in query had been a sculpture referred to as “KLAN BRIDE” (2023), that includes a swooping, ghostly type comprised of white floral lace and a white tulle-like cloth original right into a Klan hood with singed edges; and a 2021 wall piece that includes a sculpted Klan member with an open guide encased in a body with a sculpted, minstrelsy-aligned determine of a Black lady with a banjo seated on prime.
In her assertion, Simmons went on to explain her intentions of reconciling with the legacy of her Southern heritage.
“I’m a baby of the South,” she wrote. “As a pondering particular person, I abhor the evil and revel within the good present in our historical past. (Racism is unhealthy, however southern music and literature are good.) As an artist I additionally embrace the evil, as a result of it’s integral to the shape and content material of my work. Acknowledging the previous, good and unhealthy isn’t solely proper, however makes artwork and story extra attention-grabbing.”
After considerations in regards to the exhibition’s racial insensitivity had been raised on campus, Arkansas Tech College issued a press release on January 13 indicating that the establishment is “dedicated to defending First Modification rights” whereas it closes the exhibition quickly in order that Simmons can communicate with the offended events and decide which works will keep up via the rest of the present. Simmons was not instantly accessible for Hyperallergic’s request for remark.
“This consists of defending inventive expression in addition to free speech,” ATU president Robin E. Bowen continued within the assertion. “This typically requires us to mirror on and grapple with complicated societal points. The artist has requested to satisfy with those that have considerations, and, after the assembly, decide which works will stay on show.”
Final week, the African American Scholar Affiliation (AASA) took to Instagram to lambast the exhibition, stating that as a White lady, Simmons has “no place making an attempt to speak the problems, struggles, trauma, and historical past that contain the black neighborhood.”
AASA’s present president, Jace Bridges, instructed Hyperallergic that Simmons’s private historical past wasn’t one thing that “she wanted to precise on a campus of Black and Brown individuals.”
“I simply felt the entire thing was pointless,” Bridges stated. “Studying the artist assertion didn’t actually clarify the purpose of the artwork apart from to precise her private/household heritage, which I felt was odd as a result of personally, I wouldn’t specific my household’s heritage if it was, you already know, racist or had racial undertones.”
In the identical publish, the AASA additionally responded to the college’s assertion relating to the First Modification, highlighting that individuals typically neglect “having the liberty not to talk in any respect — particularly when the message isn’t [theirs] to convey.”
By January 14, ATU issued one other assertion disclosing that the exhibition was canceled per Simmons’s request, two days previous to the demonstration that was folded into the AASA’s MLK Day march on campus.
When requested about how Simmons’s works had been featured within the first place, a spokesperson for the college instructed Hyperallergic that “the content material of the work was not identified till it was obtained by the ATU Division of Artwork for show,” which is atypical as artists are normally instructed to supply a full catalogue detailing all of the included works previous to their arrival onsite.
The free speech advocacy group PEN America criticized the exhibition’s closure because it stated it denied the college as a complete a possibility to mirror on the “response it elicited.” Nevertheless, the college spokesperson confirmed that “all the concerned events utilized their First Modification rights.”
“The work was displayed by the artist, members of the college neighborhood expressed their considerations about a few of the items and the artist made the choice to cancel the exhibit,” the spokesperson stated.
However, in response to Bridges, the work wasn’t value going as much as bat for in any case.
“I simply don’t see a manner the place it appeals to anyone,” he stated, zooming out from the racialized parts of the works. “Like aesthetically it wasn’t actually pleasing. The inventive worth wasn’t actually there. The deeper that means we search for in artwork and expression wasn’t there both.”