Julia Martin Gallery to Host Discussion on Confederate Flag Imagery in Artwork

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sheila B., “Southern Motel.” Photo courtesy of Nashville Scene.

Julia Martin invites you to her gallery for a discussion in regard to the recent controversy over Sheila B.‘s painting “Southern Motel” (pictured above), which was removed from the downtown Nashville bar/restaurant Acme Feed & Seed at the request of the restaurant’s investor and mayoral hopeful Charles Robert Bone.

The painting in question is of a blonde, white woman with a Confederate flag bikini bottom bending over next to the Southern Motel, which advertises a swimming pool and exclaims on its hand painted sign: “Every kind-hearted soul welcome! Mean people stay away.”

Julia Martin is hosting an “open forum discussion” about the painting’s removal. She wrote in Tuesday’s press release:

I personally want to provide an opportunity for folks to see and discuss the piece first hand. And to talk about the many issues surrounding this particular situation along with the use of powerful symbols, like the confederate flag, in works of art.

I’m not sure if it’s an open forum (where visitors will be able to have the floor) or a panel (where just a select group of people talk.) She calls it both things. She’s invited Lux-o-matic, the white burlesque performer who modeled for the painting, as well as songwriter Jason White (who is white). Artist Dane Carder will be a panelist (also white and I guess qualified because his paintings reference Civil War imagery), and Nashville Arts editor Paul Polycarpou will join him (whom I love but is also white [CORRECTION: Polycarpou is from Cyprus, which might make a difference to some folks.]).*** And thank goodness Martin has the sense to include one person of color in this event, the writer TJ Jarrett who will perform a poetry reading (BTW, her performance alone is worth the trip; she’s sooo good.) It’s unclear if Jarrett is intended to be on the panel; she must be because otherwise it would be incredibly awkward to have the only person of color billed to perform and not have a part in the discussion — right?.

I’m skeptical of Martin’s intentions because there are plenty of Black artists, writers, and scholars living in Nashville whom Martin could draw out if she were so inclined. Since this conversation is about Confederate symbolism in art, I’d say it’s kind of important that we hear from people of color in the arts, and a visual artist would be especially appropriate. It’s possible that Martin sought a more diverse and relevant panel and came up short, but let’s face it: she obviously didn’t look very far. For me, her choice of panelists doesn’t bode well.

I’m going to be generous and say that Sheila B. has a message in “Southern Motel,” although many I’ve talked to disagree. The message is that an establishment claims to be welcoming while it allows bathing beauties to prance around in Confederate bikinis. There’s a clash of ideologies that is not terribly clever to point out. We’ve all heard versions of it. (“Bless your heart, if you’re a Christian.) If “Southern Motel” says anything at all, that’s it.

Sheila B. has shown work at Julia Martin Gallery in the past. She paints mostly portraits of country musicians and big-bosomed women in that Americana style that Nashville never tires of: pin-up style bodies, random words associated with Southern roots, nostalgic scenes, and I’ll say it again, big-bosomed women. (Somebody pass her a copy of The Ways of Seeing, please.) So I’m not a big fan of her work, but she surely should keep doing what she’s doing because a lot of people love it. Good on all of them.

What’s not so good is her shock and surprise that a Facebook group called for the painting in Acme Feed & Seed to be taken down. I want to be 100% clear in that Sheila B.’s painting is a small offense in comparison to the multitudinous Confederate images in many, many other places. But her response to the controversy shows her to be irresponsible and tone deaf. In an interview with the Scene, she says, “My artwork, it’s pretty obvious that my message is very progressive. And it is a Southern progressive.”

Let’s hold it right there.

When the Scene asks her about her intention with the painting, she can’t give a real answer. She says:

It was a Southern motel, and it said, “Every kind-hearted soul welcome, mean people stay away.” My artwork doesn’t always knock people over the head. I like to gently prod people.

If the prod is so gentle that people don’t notice, is it still a prod? Meanwhile, I’m stuck twiddling my thumbs about how her work is progressive. Her (also unprogressive) paintings of Patsy Cline and burlesque beauties aside, in this specific painting, she’s casually dropping in a loaded symbol and not judging it. Contradiction does not equal critique. In the Scene interview, the artist says that the restaurant’s decision to take the painting down “was so far out of left field — I’ve never experienced anything like that. It was so shocking.” Frankly, it made me wonder if shirking responsibility and disavowing criticism is part of the Southern progressive mindset she touts. Sheila B. says her piece is “about the New South.” If we are to believe this, it seems the New South is not much different from the Old South. Clearly, the Confederate flag is part of the way she defines the South, and she doesn’t want to jettison it as one of the region’s foremost symbols.

Here’s what I think is the trouble with Sheila B.’s painting “Southern Motel”: her work overtly celebrates Southern culture in way that some might call playful, whimsical, and above all nostalgic. Taken in this context, it is easy to understand why some folks are not cool with looking at the Confederate flag on the ass of a white woman in a five foot tall painting while they’re eating and drinking cocktails, no matter the ironic subtext. And let’s be clear: The contradiction is present in the painting. A critique is not. Persistent racist ideologies should not be summed up as some kind of trifling “meanness.”Nostalgia for Southern roots is perhaps the main defense of those who still want to fly the flag of the Rebel army. The message in the painting, therefore, is that although there’s a bit of a paradox in Southern ideologies, it’s really no big deal. 

Her response to the controversy gets more and more disturbing. She tells the Scene:

I don’t really feel censored. I actually wanted it taken down once I saw all this stuff happening. Because I didn’t want anything to happen to my artwork. People are such nutjobs, people are so crazy in this time we live in — look at what happened last week in Charleston for God’s sake, you know, crazy people do crazy things. So for me it’s not censorship. For me, I resent being co-opted into this mudslinging — it’s someone taking advantage of a situation.

Wow. There is a lot to unpack here! First, the artist shows a disturbing lack of priorities when she says that she wanted the work taken down because she was worried about it. A worse scenario might be a family from Nashville or from out of town walking into the restaurant and feeling unwelcome because of the presence of the Confederate flag, or someone not submitting a job application for the same reason.

And I’m unclear: Is she lassoing the people who wanted the painting taken down with Dylann Roof, the radical, racist terrorist and murderer of nine innocent people? Or, is she acknowledging the absolute crisis of racism in America, even while she defends her use of the flag? Or, is she excusing the Charleston massacre as an isolated incident committed by a “nutjob,” and not a symptom of an epidemic of racism in America? I’m confused. All of these options suck. Her response is blatantly tone deaf in the same way as your white uncle who says, “I’m not racist; I have black friends.”

And how about that swimming pool in the painting? Supposedly, Jim Crow ended with the Civil Rights Act, but we saw its legacy just weeks ago in McKinney, Texas when a police officer used excessive force and brutalizing language on teenagers at a pool party. As Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” A Southern progressive should know this and be receptive to criticism surrounding the use of these symbols.

Stay with me; we’re still unpacking that paragraph! The “mudslinging” she’s referring to is the fact that Charles Robert Bone requested that the painting come down. It looks like Sheila believes that the FB group “Boycott Acme Feed & Seed” was started to smear Bone. (I have a hard time believing that any campaign manager would sign off on such a stunt.) But to chalk this up to political maneuvering seems to trivialize the situation. Politicians become a scapegoat for Sheila B. Casting this as mayoral mudslinging shows an unwillingness to take the critique constructively. In fact, her response is a dismissal of feelings surrounding the flag and what it stands for, even as she claims to be a progressive.

“This is a made-up controversy,” Sheila B. says.

Arist Sonya Clark unravels a Confederate flag

Arist Sonya Clark unravels a Confederate flag in her artwork “Unravelling,” which she completed in June 2015.

Actually, it’s not. The country is in shock and mourning. Activists and artists are making brave and critical statements about the confederate flag and its symbolism, like Bree Newsome who climbed the South Carolina State Capitol’s flag pole, and Sonya Clark who unraveled a flag as an artwork just prior to the terrorist attack in Charleston. Here’s an article from Hyperallergic called “How Artists Can Help Conceive of New Flags and Monuments for the U.S”, not to mention Southern artists like Fahamu Pecou, Fabian Williams, Dustin Harewood, Princess Simpson Rashid, and Overstreet Ducasse. Sheila B. would do well to consider some of their thoughtful, and in some ways monumental work and see how her use of the Confederate flag is not isolated in her own imagination or repertoire. The call to take her painting down did not happen in a vacuum, but she insists it was another display of people being “knee jerk crazy.”

I credit Martin with wanting to explore this issue as it pertains to art, but for some reason, I’m not hopeful for a very productive conversation, in part because Sheila B. doesn’t seem open to one, and in part because there’s an inherent support of the artist in coordinating such an event with a white-dominated panel. On one hand, it seems like an opportunity for people, probably majority white people, to grapple with these issues; but more so, it’s likely to do little more than give Sheila B. a broader avenue for excuses. Maybe I’m wrong about that. You can see for yourself Friday, July 10 at 5:30 (for cocktails) / 6:00 (discussion) at 444 Humphreys.

Let me conclude with one thing: I don’t tear people down for amusement or self-gratification. I invite you to try to find another post on this blog — or in my publication history — that is so negative. But I’ll die on the hill of getting other white people to examine their intentions and actions, and I’ll take them to task when they don’t.

***I was incorrect in stating that Polycarpou is white. The CEO of Nashville Arts Magazine is from Cyprus, and he moved to England as a child with his parents. He experienced a great deal of discrimination there and has had to overcome the weight of prejudice ever since. I was wrong about his background and I apologize. I was not trying to say anyone is white so much as I was trying to say that no one was African-American. It seems (as you can read in the comments below), that TJ Jarrett will be part of this discussion, and I’ve heard that artist Sam Dunson will also be involved.

Advertisements

28 comments

  1. Pleased to see a more pointed response to what has been marked so far by a lack of priorities in response. It’s not meanness to point out that while it may not be your intent, your work is affecting other people in a negative way. Acting as though your work could never be read in any way that would offend people is a strange choice if you’re willing to portray that flag as a casual clothing choice. Genuinely, people upset at the image are not trying to blacklist her, they want her to acknowledge that perhaps it was a poor choice and isn’t the ideal greeting piece for a restaurant’s entryway. The mayoral politics that may or may not be a part of this are such a stupid tiny part of the discussion that it is insulting for her to say it’s a made up controversy. People are waking up to the fact that the South’s weird embracing of this flag is toxic to the people of color living under its shadow, to say this is just about a mayoral candidate is frustrating to this born and raised Nashvillian. We have to acknowledge the sins of our past and work on fighting them to ever move towards a New South, which is a great goal for a southern progressive, but not something I’m certain she is really working towards. :/

  2. I don’t see you tearing anyone down, Erica – this is not an ad hominem attack. Instead you hold up the words, work and actions of artists in our community up to some scrutiny and encourage all of us to see how our avowed intentions match up to our deeds. This may feel astringent to some, but any healthy community needs this amount of honesty and investigation.

    This is a particular moment in time for questioning our own motives and actions and for not settling for lip service to old ideas we’ve held oblivious to how those ideas harm or impede others.

  3. Erica, I am blown away and sincerely in awe of you right now.. We do not know each other well, but I would like to express my sincere wish to get to do so. Every single word of this post is so on point that I am in tears. My wish in bringing the piece to the gallery was/is to encourage a dialogue that you have started so eloquently here. I don’t feel attacked. Not even a little. I take your words to heart and I don’t feel that my, your or anyone’s whiteness should stop folks from having this conversation. And I have been (still am) working very hard to figure out the wisest approach to the 10th. I have called on help from people that I respect and trust to help me do so. Thank you for taking the time and please keep doing what you’re doing.

    1. Julia, kudos on a response that isn’t rooted in defensiveness. That’s a great start to discussing these difficult topics. One clarifying thing, though – I don’t think Erica was suggesting that anyone’s whiteness should stop them from discussing these issues, only that it is perhaps crucial to center the voices of those most affected by living under the shadow of casual use of the rebel flag – black people. Black people have been telling us for years that this iconography is hurtful and we’ve not listened as a society. There seems to be a little bit of a sea change right now as violence against black people grows too common to ignore and the ways in which they are enduring it with confederate icons being glorified in statuary and naming of places seems unthinkably insensitive. I do hope we won’t waste too much time as we have this discussion by giving the largest soapboxes to people who are least affected by use of the flag. It’s not that these speakers’ points of view are irrelevant or uninformed, but it is perhaps an example of not finding the voices we should center on a particular topic.

    2. I mean, assuming that TJ Jarrett is there for the panel and not just performing, it still is majority white – what about other black artists locally? Offhand, perhaps Brandon Donahue or Marlos E’van? It just seems like a really good time to try to hear from multiple voices of black people because of the topic.

  4. Every person mentioned has been invited because of their unique perspectives. TJ Jarrett & Jason White are generously sharing their artistry as a bonus to taking time out of their schedules to participate in the discussion. Insinuating otherwise is beyond insulting. Quite frankly the accusations being thrown at Sheila are insulting. I choose to sweep all of that aside for now, because the broader questions Erica has posed here are far more important than anyone’s ego or any piece of artwork.

    1. I don’t know that I understand what accusations are being thrown at Sheila B. I think mostly people feel like the interview went awkwardly and seemed a bit tone-deaf, but I haven’t heard anyone say she is racist or even supports the confederate flag, only that some people think she might have used it overly casually without fully realizing how it might be received. That happens. It’s not the end of the world unless you decide it is. I’m really glad the discussion is taking place, I’m very excited the panel is still taking shape, I hope you don’t see the desire to hear from more black voices as unfair or overly picky, it’s just a reaction to what, in the email you sent out, seemed to be a majority white panel. If that’s not the case, I’m very pleased.

      I was definitely -extremely hopeful- that TJ Jarrett was on the panel, but did not find that it was clear in the email you sent out. Sorry that you felt that was clear, I was just confused on reading it. I really really wanted her to be on the panel, but it only mentioned her performing poetry as far as I could tell. Perhaps I didn’t read it closely enough.

  5. Thank you all for contributing to this discussion. Really looking forward to hearing from TJ Jarrett and grateful you’ve turned me on to her, Julia. I don’t remember feeling so excited when I read a new poet in years.

    I see Rose’s point of view and hope that people of color will come out and contribute–because right now, I need to start listening to them and stop talking so much myself. And I think I get the source of some confusion about Jarrett and White. The press release looks like it billed them as performing while differentiating Carder and Polycarpou as panelists. I would be disappointed if not even one person of color was participating in the discussion, but that is not the case.

    I am truly hoping for a productive discussion in which Sheila is able to express herself, too. As many people have pointed out to me, I don’t know her. Not only do I host this blog, but I write about art locally and regionally. (I say this because some have suggested that I have no business writing about her because I don’t know her; I think this point is unrealistic and silly.) My only experience with her as a person is in the interview she did with the Nashville Scene. In that interview, I felt that she contradicted herself quite a bit and didn’t help me to understand her point of view about “Southern Motel” or the crisis facing our nation right now. Her comments were confusing to me and troubling, too, and that’s why I’ve written about them here. I’m not out to insult anyone, and I wouldn’t have spent eight hours composing this blog post if it wasn’t something that I found critically important on a HUGE scale …not just in Nashville as it relates to our art scene. Also, I am ALL FOR white people helping each other to see how their actions and intentions affect people of color and systemic injustice, because we historically have not been so great at that.

    Thank you for taking the time to contribute to this discussion, and I hope that more conversations are being had about it. I am grateful that you don’t want to silence the controversy, Julia. And I admire you for sticking by your friend and colleague. I look forward to talking to you soon. -EC

  6. Erica,

    You’ve made really important points in your post, and I’m glad you’ve made them. We need strong journalists like you in Nashville, writers who ask tough questions about meaning and intent in art; and we also need for people of all backgrounds here to talk about racism with courage and transparency—and more importantly, to listen to each other.

    Kudos for taking a bold stance. But what I find unfortunate is that so many of your points, for me, get lost in the condescending tone of your post. You’ve made suppositions about Sheila B’s intent as an artist, and about Julia’s intent as host of this forum, that might have been clarified with a couple of phone calls to them. First of all, Julia is fully aware of the importance of including Black artists in this discussion and is still in the process of inviting additional speakers and performers. People are finally willing to have a public discourse about Confederate symbols, and it’s vital to seize the moment before the world gets scared again and falls silent. So of course, she’s got to plan this difficult, risky event very quickly — which means the panel/cast is still in flux. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised, if you decide to attend. (And BTW, I’m with you: ANY opportunity to hear TJ Jarrett speak is not to be missed.) To assert that Julia “obviously didn’t look very far” just strikes me as an attack of snark, and a non-fact that you could not possibly know for sure unless you had spoken with her yourself.

    As for Sheila B’s interview with the Scene, I’m sure you can imagine that she’s feeling pretty cornered right now. Let’s get real: most people in defense mode are not exactly at their most articulate. She’s been accused (unfairly, in my view) of racism, and she’s hurt and afraid. I’ve tried to figure out what I would say if I were in Sheila B’s situation, and I do not know whether I would handle myself any better. What options does she have? To fall on her sword and “admit’ to something? How exactly would that go? And by the way, the remark, “Somebody pass her a copy of ‘The Ways of Seeing,’ please” doesn’t strike me as a productive way to call someone out, or one that adds wisdom or insight to this painful and difficult discussion.Whatever your opinion may be of Sheila B’s art, she’s been a successful working artist in this town for a very long time and deserves better than a dismissive, snarky aside.

    Erica, you’re an excellent writer and thinker. You have an opportunity here to challenge the parties involved to have a real conversation, not simply a token one that “looks” correct and contains the proper cast of characters. By Julia’s incredibly mature and open-hearted response to your post, she’s made it clear that she is willing to listen, to admit that she doesn’t have all the answers, and to attempt something difficult and important — at significant risk to her reputation. If your motive is a sincere wish to add something positive to such a conversation, that’s great. But I think you’d have been more likely to succeed in that goal if you’d made your points without condescension and the assumption of ill intent.

    Please consider putting yourself in Julia and Sheila B’s shoes and giving them the benefit of the doubt before you assume nefarious motives. Or better yet, extend them the courtesy of calling to find out the details before you go on the attack with incomplete information. Instead of assuming they will fail, why not give them a chance to succeed? Why not add your intelligent voice to this discourse, but in a slightly more positive way — by encouraging instead of attacking?

    When it comes to racism, nobody has all the answers. To my mind, the most important thing you and I can do, as writers who happen to be white (correct me if I’m wrong—I’m assuming here), is to talk less and listen more to the people who know far more than we do about racism in America. That IS what Julia is trying to do here, and it’s a tough, scary job. I, for one, am rooting for her.

    —Kim Green

    1. I don’t think it was clear at all that it was in flux (I’m excited to hear that it is in flux – I don’t think these speakers have nothing to say, of course, I just want more black voices that can speak to living under this particular aspect of the American South wherein people have tried to reclaim this flag as something…vaguely neutral when it carries a lot of blood and fear with it) – I got the email, it seemed to be written as a press release style. I don’t think anyone wants this to fail, there’s a lot to unpack! I think it’s reasonable to see the lineup for a panel released and think that is the final form if it is not stated that it isn’t? I mean, the Scene went to press with it, reporting the info. No one has suggested it was unreasonable for them to do so. I’m not sure why Erica is being held to a different standard. She’s commenting on an event as it was described by the person having it, I don’t think you can describe that as acting in bad faith.

      I also don’t think she has suggested ANYONE had nefarious motives or ill will at all – if anything, she’s suggested that the piece itself wasn’t motivated by politics or by a fairly apolitical stance of more niceness. It’s not that anyone has bad motives, only that the intent of not having a negative effect on others might not have been realized. I’m still unclear on what exactly Sheila B. thinks the issue is, as she seems to see it, based on the interview (which, I’m sure she was somewhat stressed – but she also did not have to agree to talk to the press if she felt uncomfortable or if she felt she was misrepresented, she could comment saying as much or ask for a clarification.) it is not based in the flag? That’s a strange idea to me, as it’s categorically about the flag to me, personally. I don’t usually get to reach out to every person in a situation or news story for personal comment or clarification, so I assume I will hear clarification at the discussion.

      Also, I guess I’m not sure what you mean by ”looks’ correct’? Could you explain what you mean by that?

      I mean, I think Erica is simply putting forth the idea that it would be useful to have more black voices on the panel, as the people who have the experience with racism. I don’t think that’s an attack – that’s a wish. I’m pleased there will be a discussion – it’s an important topic. When you say that what white writers can do is to talk less and listen more to people who know more, you’re almost exactly repeating the purpose of this article – pushing for more centered voices of people who experience racism – BIPOC, but particularly black people in this case. No one is rooting against Julia – we’re just pushing to make sure, as it was not clear, that those voices are being centered – it can be hard to make these things happen and I’m glad it is, but if we as white people can’t address other white people when we are concerned about something having problematic aspects without white fragility coming into play, we won’t get very far into this discussion. Erica expressed concern about how the panel had been described. I think that’s important, and I don’t understand the pushback saying she’s acting negatively if it’s simply a misunderstanding and the panel wasn’t complete.

  7. I can’t resist interjecting myself into this coversation. Julia Martin has been on the fringes of my social circle for a few years and I think I have an idea of her well intentioned efforts and commitment to free speech and artistic liberty. What is there to discuss? The confederate flag is a symbol of white supremacy and white culture has no moral right to its use in any context. Any appeal to nostalgia, inclusiveness, or goodwill in the use of that flag absentmindedly whitewashes over the terror and repression of all races, cultures, and human potential the stars and bars represent. Ditch the racist flag and find a new banner that Jews and Gentiles, blacks and whites, and people of all orientations and inclinations can raise and salute with pride.

  8. “She’s been accused (unfairly, in my view) of racism, and she’s hurt and afraid.”

    I don’t know that she’s been accused of racism, personally – I think she’s been accused of producing a painting that might not be the best choice to hang in an entry way to represent a restaurant/commercial space because of the somewhat casual use of a pretty controversial flag. I think she perhaps feel her use is a critique, but I think we as artists don’t always get to determine how a public reads our art and the removal of the painting is a reasonable step to make the space more welcoming to people in a space where they are probably not engaging deeply with the painting besides suddenly noticing a large representation of said flag.

    “What options does she have? To fall on her sword and “admit’ to something? How exactly would that go?”

    Fall on her sword seems a touch dramatic. No one wants her to rend her garments, just a vague recognition that a criticism of the work as being insufficiently critical of the flag is possible? And it should perhaps be listened to an not categorized as a made up controversy? That’s all I would like to see, personally. What is there to ‘admit’ beyond maybe not having realized the flag is hurtful despite her intent and her intent to critique the wearing of the flag [which i think she intended to make, giving her the benefit of the doubt – i have not been clear from her statements if she views the painting as a critique of the confederate flag’s casual usage or if it was just another southern icon she feels able to use and remix in her work?] may not be received.

    Like, god knows I am a horrible judge of what people will take away from work I’ve made. That’s just how it goes sometimes. If you feel she has no options, I will say this: Personally, if I had made it, I would probably say “I am sorry. I did not anticipate anyone would just see this as an uncritical portrait of someone wearing the flag and that it could be seen as unwelcoming to people who have to live with the glorification of racist icons all over the South. I may have misjudged what this work was communicating and want to err on the side of not being harmful. I am incredibly sad that this work is making people feel this way and support its removal from this public space, as I am distressed and incredibly sorry that anything I produce could be further hurtful to communities of color already deeply in pain at this time.” That’s….along the lines of what I would say, off the top of my head. I might spend longer refining it if I was responding to this personally, of course, but that’s my friday afternoon attempt at what I would do in her shoes. She really does have options, I just hope she’ll reconsider saying that the controversy is not actually about her painting or the flag, but instead about the mayoral race?

    No one is saying the confederate flag can never be portrayed, but I think we are getting more sensitive to uncomplicated usage of it – and there’s a lot of uncomplicated usage of it currently in this town. Hence why I assume Erica noted the Sonya Clark piece (yay Cranbrook Fiber!) as an example of a complicated usage of the flag that addresses the layered meanings of it.

    “And by the way, the remark, “Somebody pass her a copy of ‘The Ways of Seeing,’ please” doesn’t strike me as a productive way to call someone out, or one that adds wisdom or insight to this painful and difficult discussion.Whatever your opinion may be of Sheila B’s art, she’s been a successful working artist in this town for a very long time and deserves better than a dismissive, snarky aside.”

    well. that was perhaps snarky. but the post mostly was pretty seeking and honest. Erica’s from the north, we can’t expect the complete southern sweet tea disposition of waiting till people are out of earshot to talk about them. ;>

    She owned that she was not personally a fan of Sheila’s work, which I appreciated from a full disclosure level – it allows that she is not coming from the point of being really into the work when interpreting it – sort of the way you might have an acknowledging of a conflict of interest if you were on the opposite side of the situation and friends with the artist? I mean, I own a magnet of Sheila’s work (from the the bashful/nashville vein of work, purchased from the loveless cafe at some point while I was living out of state and having weird missing nashville feelings).

  9. I’m sorry, but to me, the brouhaha over Sheila B’s painting is just a lot of knee-jerk reaction. When she first emailed me about the situation, I emailed her back “Shit, Sheila, you just got caught by a stray bullet.” And I still think this is the truth. I’ve known Sheila longer than anybody writing on this site……long enough to know her good points and her bad points. We are very close friends and believe me, she’s like all the rest of us….she has her good points and her bad points…and ask anybody who knows our relationship, I am constantly on her ass about some of her undesirable qualities…..I’m a critic in the way that only somebody who knows and cares about you can be a critic. I KNOW that Sheila isn’t a racist. I KNOW that Sheila”s art work is not racist, just like I KNOW that Sheila’s art work is not sexist, even if she uses images of pin-up girls. Even though I would never, and have never, displayed a Confederate flag, I would proudly own this painting. Like all Sheila’s paintings it has a certain sense of humor that I share. The attention drawn to her painting was caused by a fucking politician trying to score negative points against another fucking politician. One of the things that has to be addressed here is the difference between an iconoclastic emblem used in an artistic work and a emblem used as a symbol of political beliefs….a difference between flag waving and showing a flag in an artistic interpretation. Seriously, are we going to ban every photo or painting that shows the Confederate flag? For example, Robert Franks is one of my artistic heroes. He documented America as it is in a way that nobody ever did before and I doubt that anybody ever will after him. I don’t know if any of his photos contain a Confederate flag, but given the content of his photos, I wouldn’t be surprised if one showed up. Should we ban that photo, if it was indeed taken? If you say yes, I’m going to the streets to fight you. If you want to paint a picture of a 2015 redneck whether it be satirical, hateful or just a recording of life as you see it, how do you properly do this without a Confederate flag and a gun in the background? You can paint this, photograph this, or film/video this without reflecting your own values ….or you can subtly, or not so subtly include your message in your art. You are an artist….you take reality and interpret it in some way. Isn’t this what art is? If you are banned from painting reality and you obey this rule, how the fuck can you call yourself a true artist? Check your history and think about who we value as artists…..rebellion, or at least not following the rules, has, and probably always will be a defining characteristic of great artists. Having said all this, let’s go back to Sheila’s painting. Do you really see this as glorifying the Confederate flag as a symbol of racism? I totally get the incorrect displaying of the flag as a symbol of racism, especially over any American government office. If you fly this flag in your yard, much less over a state capitol, I have a problem with you…. and have for many, many years. At the same time, to be honest, if you fly the American flag in your yard today, I probably have a problem with you. I digress. The point is that Sheila did not wave the flag….she painted a woman wearing the flag on her ass. Truth be known, this is disrespectful of the flag if you are serious about a flag as a political statement…. just like we used to plaster the flag on our clothes back in the day of protests against the American involvement in the Vietnam war (plus a multitude of sins that Bernie Sanders is just beginning to address…sorry that was a political aside…and even as an atheist, I say GOD BLESS YOU, BERNIE SANDERS!) OK, I’ve obviously had enough with being serious. Maybe this is why I get Sheila B’s art. She paints a picture of something for what it is, but the tone is always tongue-in-cheek. If there’s not room in this world for this kind of art, like I said, I will see you in the street.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts. I do not think that Sheila B. is racist and I have not said that. I have also not said that I think she is using the flag in that painting in a way that glorifies it. My critique is that it is a charged symbol that is dropped in casually and in a nostalgic context, which I think is troubling, and which I do not think has any place in a public restaurant where people are not necessarily deconstructing or otherwise analyzing artwork. It is my opinion that this painting does not carry a strong message of rebellion. I go to the trouble in this article to describe why that is my opinion. Yours is different, and you go to the trouble to describe why. So we have two differing opinions and the world has not ended.

      I have referenced a work in this article that IS using a confederate flag to make a rebellious, political statement. Sonya Clarke’s deconstruction of the flag is something that interests me. Art that I am drawn to tends to be more conceptual — it’s just my utterly subjective taste. All art criticism is subjective. All of it is based in opinion and taste. I wrote this piece as a piece of art and cultural criticism. That is the purpose of this blog, and it is what I write all the time.

      Look, I realize that my tone is snarky, and completely understand why people are taking issue with it. But there will be no need to meet me on the street and fight me. Again, from one atheist to another, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  10. Erica, I am indeed a bit pissed that you said the things you did about Sheila (like I said, this is one of my closest friends!). Sheila wears her heart on her sleeve and is actually very apolitical. Like a lot of my friends, she lives her politics, she doesn’t feel the need to proclaim them. Please read what I wrote again and take the “you” as a collective “you”, not a personal “you”. The main point of what I wrote is that, out of all the good that so truly needs to be accomplished by bringing down this flag and eradicating the racism that is behind it, we also have to deal with it’s place in art as an iconoclastic symbol. Two different things. (As for the “I’ll meet you in the street” comments, please take this in the context of my age..I am a child of the 60’s/70’s.) I, personally, am totally against the Confederate flag as a symbol of the political south or as a symbol for pride in racism or any other hateful thinking. I was born in the South, raised in the South, but, like I said, I chose never to fly or glorify this flag because of the above reasons. (crap, now you got me discussing my politics!), but I will defend the use of it in art that does not include the above reasons. Hell, on any given day I might even defend it’s use in art even if I didn’t agree with the message. Long live freedom in art (and Bernie Sanders!) And if you ever need me to meet you in the street to defend your views, just call.

  11. Well done, Erica. This is what open debate looks and sounds like — something you don’t see often in these parts. Good for you speaking your mind, and good for all of you commenting and not trying to hide what you’re really thinking.

  12. I am having trouble with such brouhaha over a confederate flag on a girl’s ass. The original problem was obviously one of the other mayoral candidates trying find a way to make Charles Bone appear as a racist–the page referred to Bone as an owner (he is not, he is an investor) and photoshopped Bone’s image next to the painting. It has turned into an attack on the artist.
    HELLO!!! Remember “Piss.Christ”????? A crucifix in a vial of urine? That’s an attack on religion and society…a battle flag on a girl’s ass????Not so much. Especially when a qualifier is tacked on…”mean folks stay away.”

    1. DiAnne, The fact that you refuse to put yourself in another person’s shoes, such as a Black family walking into Acme, or a Black woman applying for a job, says absolutely nothing about my argument and everything about your character.

      1. Hmm…I don’t remember refusing to put myself in another person’s shoes. I think of myself as empathetic. A battle flag on a girl’s bikini bottom seems the perfect way to disrespect the Confederate battle flag and I think a Black family might agree. Let’s ask them.

  13. An additional issue to those raised above: This writer doubts Sheila B’s standing as an artist because she hasn’t publicly displayed sufficient verbal skills to meet some invisible standard. So you can’t be a painter unless you make the debate team?

    1. Brenda, I do not doubt her standing as an artist. I say she is an established and popular artist. I am also not criticizing her “verbal skills” but saying that her comments lacked accountability. This is not a criticism of verbal skills but of attitude. Thanks for reading.

  14. Erica, I really hope that you will take some time to read this comment….as much time that you spent is writing this blog post. Nashville is a very small – large town…and sad to say, you have made alot of enemies. I am a full time artist who owns her own company. AND woman to woman…your writing is extremely immature, and appears as a freshman art major….If you want to continue to be successful in this company, you should probably find another outlet for your hormonal rants, raves….than online trival comments….that you cannot take away. I would encourage you to meet your local artists, interview them, before you stand on your soapbox and start screaming like a MADD WOMAN. I am in AWE that you would take your precious time to gang bang and single out 1 artist in such a “single, narrow-minded” post. Obviously, you are grabbing for straws and trying to make a name for yourself…IN ORDER, to get more freelance writing jobs….HOWEVER< you have just SHOT yourself in the foot. The time it's taking me to write this REPLY….is TIME LOST….I truly hope you will find your center, your balance, your peace, and talk straight to the "horses mouth" so to speak….I am a Nashvillian and you have ZERO experience in the people who you are posting about. You speak of WHITE-DOMINATED…you are WHITE yourself…..very hypocritical. AS I said, before, you are very young, very immature. AND making yourself look very very immature. I also hope you find peace again, in the arts, where your KHARMA does not come full-circle, and someone bashes you and kicks you into the ground…..when you don't even know the person. You associate yourself with the SCENE< the ARTS mag…and you should be supportive, and not such hatred/negativity. You sound NO diffferent that the RACIST you are complaining about. Obviously you are not from the south, and have no CLUE about the RACISM we fight the fight everyday. grocery store, gas station, public schools. YOU ARE WHITE!!! so get off your high horse and look at yourself in the mirrror. I wish you peace. and experience in the real world….instead of your narrow minded pretensious art world. Try spending some time with inner city kids of all color….who have no parents….who have no support….than WASTING YOUR time and my PRECIOUS TIME responding to your stupid lack of experience blog.

    1. Well. Pearl. The only thing that I will respond to is this: no white person is beyond reproach when it comes to racism. Including me. I examine my attitudes all the time, because I know that racism is subtle and pervasive. This is as true in New York City as it is in Nashville. It doesn’t matter where you come from in this country. To avoid talking about issues of race in order to be polite is to contribute to a systemically racism culture. I felt like no one was talking about this issue. That’s why I wrote it. I don’t care if I never get a freelance writing job again. And no, I didn’t do this to further my career. I write on the side about things I care about. I don’t do it solely to make a living, and I don’t care how many clicks I get anywhere. A man named John Metta recently published a really great essay that I hope you’re read. Here’s the link: https://medium.com/@johnmetta/i-racist-538512462265 Now Pearl, you are obviously taking this all very personally, so I invite you to email me your further concerns at erica.ciccarone@gmail.com. People have been having productive conversations in these comments, but you seem bent on something else, so I won’t approve any more comments from you. But please do email me to insult me further. -Erica

Comments are closed.