The local news station in Grand Rapids, MI was informed about a painting depicting a classroom full of children – and the black kids were painted wearing prison jumpsuits. Artist Rosie Lee said the piece was inspired by an article in New York Magazine about how New York schools divided kids by race to have conversations about identity, but townsperson Cory Ward expressed distaste. Ward says that the painting, displayed without context, is potentially damaging. Lee refused to write an explanation, claiming he wants dialogue to occur but accusations of privilege discourage people from having those conversations.
This article was intriguing for several reasons, the most prominent being the artist’s refusal to explain his work. I agree with Ward that context in important for people to have productive conversations about race, because this helps avoid misconceptions. Similar to discourse about the historical value of confederate statues, I believe that the correct place for them is somewhere people can go to learn about the horrors of the Civil War and not just have art that glorifies the ‘heroes.’ Lee’s refusal appears to be an admittance that he didn’t fully consider the implications of the piece when creating it. He claims he wants productive dialogue. How does he want dialogue on the topic of the painting – the school to prison pipeline – if he doesn’t tell the audience of the piece what his intentions were behind painting it?
I think the article raises questions of how to encourage dialogue when art is created.