‘Welcome to America’ Exposes Realities of Racism

By Guest Columnist Apr 02, 2008

by Thanu Yakupitiyage Earlier in March, a colleague brought my attention to an article that she had seen in Gothamist about an art exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA) in Brooklyn. "The Blue Wall of Violence" courtesy of MoCADA Dread Scott is a black artist well known for his confrontational pieces addressing the current state of America. In 1989, President George Bush, Sr. publicly denounced an installation of Scott’s called, “What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S Flag?" . The piece required audiences to step on the U.S flag. Outrage at the exhibit led to congress passing legislation outlawing the desecration of national symbols in art. Being a firm believer in the power of art to inspire debate and consequently strive for change, I was frustrated by some of the negative reactions to Dread Scott’s latest exhibit ‘Welcome to America.’ The New York Daily News took a one-sided perspective on the exhibit, calling it “cop bashing” and highlighting the anger of police officials. Patrick Lynch, President of Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association is quoted saying, “You could fill this entire museum with people of all races and ethnicities whose lives were saved by the very police that this art exhibit vilifies.” Curious to see the exhibit myself, I finally got a chance and was blown away by what I, instead, interpreted as depth and necessary critical reflection on issues pertaining to police brutality, Hurricane Katrina, the incarceration of black men, and U.S led wars in the Middle East. MoCADA’s small but well-used space houses one of the most thoughtful exhibitions I have seen in New York. Amongst pieces that were particularly profound was the installation entitled ‘Blue Wall of Violence’ depicting target practice boards with the outlines of people, each holding an object that was mistaken for a weapon by police. The piece recounts the unlawful killings of black men such as Amadou Diallo-Wallet, Andre Burgess, and Antoinne Reed, all of whom were unarmed, holding a chocolate bar, and holding a window wiper, respectively. Another piece entitled ‘Disequilibrium’ presents a heart stabbing analysis of Hurricane Katrina, depicting a child of color floating on the top of an aquarium full of water, while at the bottom lies a forlorn brass trumpet. When discussing the work with MoCADA’s museum store manager, I found out that none of the police who criticized the exhibit had actually come to see it. Maybe their criticism comes from a fear of exposing the truth? In response to the Daily News’ assertions, I would say that Scott’s exhibit is undoubtedly successful. It forces audiences to contextualize the reality of racism in contemporary affairs.