Black Artists Respond to Confederate Flag Imagery in Artwork in Nashville Scene

Laura Hutson, arts editor for Nashville Scene is publishing interviews with Black artists from the region. She asks them to respond to the controversy around Sheila B.’s “Southern Motel” painting, which was taken down at Acme Feed & Seed two weeks ago.

First, she talks to Donna Woodley, a Memphis-born, Nashville-based artist who is currently pursuing an MFA in Boston. Hutson asks Woodley what she would say to Sheila B. if she could attend Friday’s forum. “If she were there,” Woodley says, “I would like to think that she’d give a little about her background. I would like to know what the Confederate flag as a symbol meant for her growing up. Just to kind of get an idea of where her head is as far as including the image in her work. I would really listen closely to that.”

(Hutson also reports that Sheila B. will not be attending the forum, as she will be out of town.)

John Sims',

John Sims’, “The Proper Way to Hang a Confederate Flag” at Schmucker Gallery, Gettysburg.

Hutson will be publishing interviews with John Sims and Brandon Donahue soon, so keep checking in with her on Country Life. Sims is a fascinating artist; check out his Recoloration Proclamation, in which he re-colors the Confederate flag and others. Sims is bold and meticulous. According to Stephen Tragreser of the Scene, he used Dred Scott’s What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag? piece from the 80s as a springboard for a new work called The Proper Way to Hang a Confederate Flag. Sims hung it from a gallows with a noose. Once you start looking, examples of Black artists using the flag to make statements about racial strife in America abound. I hope this will be part of the discussion at Friday’s forum.

This evening, a few of my friends posted an essay on social media called “I, Racist” by John Metta. Metta delivered the essay to a white congregation at Bethel Congregational United Church of Christ on Sunday, June 28th. If I could name a required reading for the forum on Confederate flag imagery in artwork, this would be it! Metta breaks down white privilege and white fragility so simply, even for us thick-headed white folks who don’t spend much time considering ways that we’ve benefited from the oppression of people of color in America. Metta’s sermon hits its crest with this point:

“Here’s what I want to say to you: Racism is so deeply embedded in this country not because of the racist right-wing radicals who practice it openly, it exists because of the silence and hurt feelings of liberal America.”

This calling of white America has been happening for years. Black people have been telling us this our whole lives, but we haven’t listened. Let’s stop being offended and start listening. Props to Laura Hutson for her contributions to the conversation.

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