By Mira Oberman
An art replica of a slain black teen stirs the race debate in the US
Curators say a life-size replica of the prone body of Michael Brown is fighting racism through art but the slain black teenager’s father branded it “disgusting” and wants it removed immediately.
The elder Michael Brown led a chorus of critics who argued that the white artist who created the Chicago installation as part of a show about white privilege and racism went too far with the graphic piece.
“I really, really would like them to take that away,” Brown senior said of the work, which shows his 18-year-old son lying face down on the ground surrounded by police tape.
“I think it’s really disturbing, disgusting,” he told CBS News. “That picture is still in my head.”
The exhibit comes amid racial tensions that were ignited last year by the deaths of Brown and several other unarmed black men at the hands of police.
Its stated goal is “confronting racism in America through art” and urges visitors to “join the conversation and begin the healing.”
Artist Ti-Rock Moore said her work is “rooted in my passions primarily as an activist, with my focus being the devastating racism that remains pervasive in all areas of society in this country”.
“I explore white privilege through my acute awareness of the unearned advantage my white skin holds,” she wrote in a blurb accompanying the exhibit.
The show is filled with many other bold statements including a model of the Statue of Liberty in blackface, a neon sign in the shape of a cross which spells out “white privilege” and hooded white figures cradled in the Confederate flag.
But the depiction of Brown’s body dominates the room.
The soles of his sandals and the boxers riding up from under his pants are the first thing many visitors see as they walk into the gallery. A video of Eartha Kitt singing “Angelitos Negros” looms over the body.
Brown’s mother gave tacit approval to the project by travelling hundreds of miles from her home in Ferguson, Missouri for the opening at Gallery Guichard on Friday.
The mannequin of her son was covered up before she arrived.
The gallery, which has reportedly received death threats and hate mail, said it had also reached out to his father before mounting the exhibit.
“This is about the cause,” the gallery said in one of many heated exchanges on Twitter.
Owner Andre Guichard said he commissioned Moore’s first solo exhibit because he valued her activism and “the way she expresses how different cultures experience racism”.
“Any work that turns a mirror to the ugly part of our society may provoke a visceral response from people,” he said.
“I think this exhibit does exactly what it’s supposed to do – it continues the conversation about race relations in our country.”
Columnist Kirsten West Savali of The Root was among those who felt Moore’s work is exploitive and in bad taste.
“Memories of Brown’s desecrated body are already emblazoned across every home and every hood and every heart of every black person who has ever realised that this country never loved us at all,” she wrote.
“We do not need a ‘courageous’ white artist to sign her signature on the body of our dead to understand that.”
Artist Luther Kush disagreed.
“I applaud this lady,” Kush, 75, said after taking in the exhibit on Chicago’s predominantly black South Side Wednesday.
“I just love this. It needs to be done. Art wakes people up.”
Art student Henry Voellmecke was moved by the exhibit’s “powerful statements” but was not convinced it was appropriate for a white artist to take on the issue of violence against black men.
“I think she has good intentions, but we don’t need to be the ones to reflect on it because it’s not our story to tell,” he said.