Race and the Censoring of Art

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In 2005 the Board of Directors of the Quinlan Museum in Duluth, Georgia refused to allow artists Richard Lou and Bill Fisher to install their work. After commissioning the piece the museum board decided to censor the piece when they realized the important statement that Fisher and Lou were making concerning race and gender in our society. Below are pieces that Fisher and Lou made to protest their censorship including three press releases describing their positions.


Missing Stereotypes - Public Art Piece.

* Distributing art-posters in Duluth, Georgia

* Sending T-Shirts through the mail with same image to principles in the Jennifer Wilbanks saga.

* Artwork is downloadable at following web address: http://billfisher.dreamhost.com/nohate.html

* Produced by Bill Fisher and Richard A. Lou 2005.

* June 21, 2005

* City of Duluth, Georgia

Bill Fisher and Richard A. Lou's "Missing Stereotypes" explores the media's narration of the "Runaway Bride", Jennifer Wilbanks, and her mythically racist account of being "kidnapped" at gun point and sexually assaulted by a Hispanic man and white woman. "Missing Stereotypes" juxtaposes the media's first beloved inter-racial couple, a Hispanic man and a white woman (read here acceptable mixed-race couple by the dominant culture) - Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, as a counterpoint to Wilbank's more menacing and irresponsible account (see Emmet Till 1955 and Susan Smith 1994 or Rosewood, Florida where an entire African American town was burned to the ground) given to law enforcement regarding her "armed kidnappers." Our three questions are why did Wilbank's find it so "easy" (her words to Katie Couric) to cast a Hispanic man and a white woman as armed kidnappers and sexual predators? Why didn't the media respond appropriately to Wilbank's racist accusations that placed Latino men (an already oppressed group) and their white women companions (women - another marginalized group) in harms way? Why do we continue to allow the media to dictate what we should care about, privileging Wilbank's story over more vitally important issues such as the increasing gap between the rich and poor?

Performance artist and McArthur Award recipient Guillermo Gomez-Pena said it best in his performance "Border Brujo" when describing the dominant culture's schizophrenic relationship with Latinos in the U.S., "You are in good company but you don't know it yet!" Jennifer Wilbanks, and for the most part a self-devouring media, certainly, in what some might describe as theatre of the absurd, exemplified Gomez-Pena insightful conundrum. Wilbanks, the "Runaway Bride" related to police and the FBI "a torrid tale of abduction and sexual assault by a Hispanic man with bad teeth and his heavyset white female companion" (excerpt from CBS online, Christine Lagorio, May 13, 2005). What was it about her imagined transgressors that were palatable and therefore believable to a larger U.S. audience - the lingering racial stereotype of the oversexed, violent, and armed Latino male interested in miscegenation. It is not a coincidence that with the rapidly changing demographics in the North Atlanta area that it is bubbling with ant-immigrant sentiment, in Gainesville there have been reports of high school boys purposefully targeting Latino day-workers to rob, and hate groups passing as immigration watchdogs.

Noam Chomsky warns us about the media's ability to focus and enlarge the unimportant in order to deflect attention on matters that are vitally important to us as a nation interested in emulating a form of democracy. We fall in love/hate and are consumed with the tragic-comic figure of Wilbanks instead of focusing on issues that affect us profoundly and daily like sexism, racism, the lack of health care, U.S. invasion of Iraq, the legal and physical abuse of prisoners by U.S. armed forces, homelessness, global warming, HIV-Aids, poverty, the criminalization of dissent through the Patriot Act - unfortunately with the media saturation of the absurdly banal we have a populace that is mesmerized and paralyzed with the similar wide-eyed vapid gaze of a Jennifer Wilbanks.

Missing Stereotypes - T-Shirt gifts great for travel or weddings. It's in the mail! Below is the list of our projected recipients:

1. Jennifer Wilbanks

2. John Mason - fiancée

3. Claude Mason - fiancée father and ex-Mayor of Duluth, municipal court judge in Norcross, Georgia

4. Danny Porter - Gwinnett County District Attorney

5. Randy Belcher - City of Duluth Police Chief

6. Carter Brank, assistant special agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation

7. Shirley Lasseter - Duluth Mayor

8. Superior Court Judge Ronnie K. Batchelor

9. Elaine Reyes - 11Alive's reporter.

10. Ray Schultz - Albuquerque Police Chief

11. Ryan Kelly, owner of the Park Cafe a few blocks from Wilbanks' house

Press Release 2:

Latino Art On Jennifer Wilbanks Censored In Her Hometown In Georgia

¡Missing Stereotypes Missing!: CENSORSHIP of Chicano Artist and Collaborator's Artwork on Jennifer Wilbanks:

The Board of Directors of the Quinlan Visual Arts Center (514 Green Street, Gainesville, Georgia) has ordered the removal of the installation "Missing Stereotypes." A commentary on the mostly-ignored racism inherent in the Jennifer Wilbanks saga and a part of the Quinlan's "Celebración" exhibition of Latino Art, Richard Lou and Bill Fisher's (from Milledgeville, Georgia) collaborative mixed media installation was dismantled by gallery staff before the show's opening on Thursday, August 4, 2005. Mr. Lou, upon arrival for the show's opening reception to the public, was informed by Gallery Director Maureen Files that the work offended certain members of the Quinlan's Board of Directors who were friends of Wilbanks family, many of whom live in or are from Gainesville.

The installation included a t-shirt, a screenprint on paper and flour tortillas all bearing the familiar smiling, wide-eyed image of Jennifer Wilbanks displayed freely in the mainstream print and television media (the shirt also included images of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo as the "White Female and Hispanic Male" Wilbanks falsely claimed as her abductors: see original press release below).

Mr. Lou re-installed the piece outside, donned the printed t-shirt and, while handing out Jennifer-Tortillas, spent the evening on the sidewalk in front of the gallery engaging passersby in discussing the Quinlan's censorship of the piece.

Fisher and Lou believe the decision to censor this artwork by the "New" Quinlan's Board of Directors is an infringement of their first amendment right, silences a critique on racism and racial profiling, directly contradicts the Quinlan's stated mission, and is ultimately unfair to the community. From the Quinlan website at http://www.quinlanartscenter.org/:

Welcome to the "New Quinlan"!

Our Mission: "To promote and develop the visual arts in Northeast Georgia through diverse exhibits, educational programs and community involvement."

"Celebración," An Exhibition of Latino Art, August 4 - October 2, 2005, Quinlan Visual Arts Center, 514 Green Street, Gainesville, Georgia, 770-536-2575, info@quinlanartscenter.org

Press Release 3

Update to the Associated Press/Gainesville Times Report at http://www.gainesvilletimes.com/news/stories/20050808/localnews/3667.shtml

08.11.05: The Quinlan Arts Center (Gainesville, GA) has notified Richard Lou today by email that their Board of Directors has ordered the immediate removal of the rest of his work (which includes solo work as well as collaborative work involving multiple artists) from the show Celibración, following the Board's opening night removal of "Missing Stereotypes," Lou's and collaborator Bill Fisher's commentary on "Runaway Bride" Jennifer Wilbanks' racist, and false, accusations of abduction and rape by a Hispanic male and white female.

The Gainesville Times Report illustrates more of the same (not-really-so-) subtle xenophobia, racist stereotyping and condescension at work: "Jennifer Wilbanks angered Hispanic groups...," "the president of the group Hispanics Across America backed down from his threat...," "Hispanic man...in very broken English...the sweetest things...".

The Athens, GA gallery Athica will be showing the work along with documentation of the Quinlan fiasco. Please see http://www.athica.org/ for more information on their upcoming August-Oct. show "RACE (Enter Personal Politics)," curated by Drék Davis.

Jennifer Wilbanks' invention of the privileged-class-bogeyman-of-the-month, in this case an interracial couple, Hispanic and white, is not an isolated phenomenon. Robert Harris, Jesse Anderson, Miriam Kashani, Charles Stuart, Emmet Till, Susan Smith, or Rosewood, Florida are all cases in point. This form of racism goes largely denied by our society and ignored by the media, yet maintains much authority. This, we thought, was worth the discussion which the main stream media chose to either ignore, or use in order to portray Wilbanks as the unfortunate victim of angry Hispanics and Political Correctness.

At its first public exhibition, the work was pulled at the direction of a member of the Quinlan's Board of Directors as being possibly offensive to the Wilbanks family, friends of the Board member. This blatant act of cronyism and censorship is further example of the mechanisms of class, race and privilege being originally examined by the piece.

Two interesting developments since this first act of censorship: the site which features Missing Stereotypes, (http://billfisher.dreamhost.com/nohate.html) has received a number of hits from white supremacist blogs, (see http://www.vnnforum.com/showthread.php?t=21785, for example) with comments suggesting the work is a "hate crime," against "Caucasians" apparently. Also, the Quinlan Arts Center's aforementioned removal of the rest of Richard Lou's solo and collaborative work from the exhibit...no explanation, a seemingly punitive measure. These developments seem to validate the original motivation for the projects, clearly illustrate the need for a dialogue on these issues, and shows how far we all have to go. We will continue our efforts to have these ideas be heard loud and clear, despite the Quinlan's efforts to silence them. We're confident that their efforts are already in vain.

Bill Fisher and Richard Lou


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