Letter to the Editor, Gainesville Times, Published 10/02/05
The Quinlan Visual Arts Center and Censorship
The Latin Gala is on Saturday - and while patrons of the arts are getting salsa dance lessons for $50 a head, they and the corporate sponsors of this event will also be supporting censorship. Celebración is an exhibition that was to showcase Latino Artists in Georgia, artists who were directly invited by the Quinlan staff. The impetus for the exhibition is a laudable one and the Quinlan should be commended for encouraging Gainesville, and north Georgia, to celebrate its own changing identity through the arts. Art produced by Latinos in the United States is not monolithic however. It is as diverse as the Art produced by any group of people. While striving to showcase a survey of Latino Art in Georgia, the removal of the work of an invited artist by order of members of the Quinlan's Board of Directors, for the reasons given, completely misrepresents the diverse voices, histories and intellects of our respective communities. To use their loyalty towards their friends as curatorial criteria is by all measures unprofessional, completely negates their Mission Statement and shamelessly smacks of the elitist "Good Ol' Boy Network" that most agree reinforces damaging stereotypes of the Old South.
The piece in question, "Missing Stereotypes," features Jennifer Wilbanks and how "easy" (her word to Katie Couric) it was for her to cast a Hispanic man and white woman as armed kidnappers and sexual predators. Her "story" placed Latino men (an already oppressed group) and their white women companions (women and interracial couples - two other marginalized groups) in harms way (see Emmit Till, Rosewood, Florida, Robert Harris, and Susan Smith). Our piece questions how our society continues to readily accept the mythical stereotype that men of color are oversexed, dangerous, violent, and strictly interested in miscegenation. The Quinlan's decision to pull the work (and following the artists' initial protest, the punitive removal of the rest of Lou's solo and collaborative artwork) silenced the interaction and dissemination of these ideas, re-marginalizing the marginalized. But racism is not solely a Minority issue. All of us are responsible in identifying and eradicating it; it is an issue that taints all who refuse its existence and/or choose to silence the messengers. Racism diminishes everyone's humanity, perpetrator and victim alike - although the victim has much more to lose. Within the context of the Quinlan's exhibit, to deny the presence of the effects of racism towards the Latino community within the confines of the U.S. borders is to betray our own life experiences, be ignorant of our history as a nation and irresponsible as an institution that is also about "education" - one of the main points of the exhibition. Their actions have abandoned that responsibility.
The arts have a great tradition of inclusiveness, of examination, and of dialogue. We were hoping that through our work as artists we could engage the communities of north Georgia, Gainesville specifically, in a dialogue regarding issues of race and media. The Quinlan decided on behalf of (or in spite of) the citizens of Gainesville and its surrounding communities to not allow this examination or dialogue. The exclusionary practices of the Board members of the Quinlan are exposed in their cynical decision to protect their "friends" instead of following their stated mission, protecting and supporting freedom of speech for the artists and the community, and allowing the community to make certain judgements for themselves. The Quinlan failed on all three fronts as they decided to participate in a zero sum game. The losers are the residents of Gainesville; there is no winner when censorship, the oppression of free speech, is involved.
Another casualty of their decision was the negation of the institution's mission to foster a nurturing environment that promotes freedom of expression and an exchange of ideas, as all institutions interested in the arts in our democratic society strive to be. The question, in practice, becomes a simple one: whom does your institution serve - the arts, artists and the Gainesville community as a whole, or the social elite of Gainesville. At this point their adherence to their well-intended mission is morally bankrupt. It is bittersweet that the actions of the Quinlan's directors clearly illustrate the cogency of the work they have censored and the value in the discussion they have attempted to silence. Following their overtly political act of censorship, the statement issued by the Vice President of the Quinlan's Board of Trustees that "We're not looking for political statements and we don't want to make any kind of political statements with any art at the Quinlan" is either extremely naive or completely disingenuous. The Quinlan Visual Arts Center and the city of Gainesville will now become another entry on a long list of documented cases of censorship including Stalinist USSR, the Peoples Republic of China, and Nazi Germany. The fine residents of the city of Gainesville have the Board members of the Quinlan to thank for casting the dark pall of special interest, fear of reprisal, cronyism and censorship over the otherwise sunny reputation of a sophisticated, hospitable and thoughtful community.
We sincerely wish you well.
Bill Fisher and Richard A. Lou
UPDATE: The Quinlan Arts Center has notified Richard Lou by email that their Board of Directors has ordered the immediate removal of the rest of his work from the show Celibración, following the Board's removal of his and Bill Fisher's piece "Missing Stereotypes" before opening night on August 4, 2005. See this Gainesville Times/AP Report for more of the same (not-really-so-) subtle xenophobia, racist stereotyping, and condescension ("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...").
Just wanted to let you know that the Board has met regarding your
participation in the exhibition and has requested that we remove your
artwork. We have everything packed up in a safe place ready for you to pick
up at your convience. Please contact me if you have any questions.
Maureen Marks Files
Quinlan Visual Arts Center
¡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:
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, email@example.com
Dear Celebración Artists and the Quinlan VAC Board of Directors,
The impetus for the exhibition, Celebración, is a laudable one and the Quinlan and their staff should be commended in exposing Gainesville to its own changing identity through the arts. However, Art produced by Latinos in the United States is not monolithic. It is as diverse as Art by any group of people and, in attaining its goal to showcase a survey of Latino Art in Georgia, the Quinlan cannot pick and choose which art the Quinlan agrees with ideologically - that completely misrepresents the diverse voices, experiences, and histories of our respective communities. Nor should the Quinlan use its loyalty towards its friends as curatorial criteria - this is completely unprofessional and smacks of the "Good Ol¹ Boy Network," thereby reinforcing crude stereotypes of the Old South.
The piece in question features Jennifer Wilbanks and how "easy" (her word to Katie Couric) it was for her to cast a Hispanic man and white woman as armed kidnappers and sexual predators. Her "story" placed Latino men (an already oppressed group) and their white women companions (women - another marginalized group) in harms way (see Emmit Till, Rosewood, Florida, and Susan Smith). Our piece questions how our society continues to readily accept the mythical stereotype that men of color are oversexed, dangerous, violent, and strictly interested in miscegenation. The Quinlan's decision to pull the work silenced the interaction and dissemination of these ideas based on our real experiences, re-marginalizing the marginalized. But racism is not solely a Latino issue; all of us are responsible in identifying and eradicating it, and it is an issue that taints all that refuse its existence and/or choose to silence the messengers. Racism diminishes everyone's humanity, perpetrator and victim alike - although the victim loses much more. To deny the presence (within the context of the Quinlan's exhibit) of the effects of racism towards the Latino community within the confines of the U.S. borders is to ask us to betray our own real life experiences of racism in the US, to be ignorant of our history as a nation and to be irresponsible as an institution that is also about education - which was one of the main points of the exhibition.
Another casualty of the Quinlan's decision is the institution's mission to foster a nurturing environment that promotes freedom of expression and an exchange of ideas, as all institutions interested in the arts in our democratic society should be. The question becomes a simple one, in practice: who does your institution serve - the Arts, artists and the Gainesville community as a whole, or does the Quinlan serve as a cultural playground for the social elite of Gainesville? At this point the Quinlan's adherence to its well-intended Mission Statement is morally bankrupt.
Bill Fisher and I are asking that you correct your egregious actions of censoring Missing Stereotypes (and the subsequent punitive censoring of Low-Mower, the Penance Machine, and Heritage Fiesta after Bill Fisher and I informed the public of your acts of censorship) by reinstating immediately and at the Quinlan's expense all aforementioned work removed, and sponsoring two panel discussions at the Quinlan Visual Arts Center. The first panel discussion will be Censorship in the Arts. The second panel would explore how some artists use the arts as a strategy to critique the status quo. We would collaborate with the Quinlan on organizing both panels, with the Quinlan paying honorariums for the panelists. All art has a social/political agenda and to say that the Quinlan is not interested in political art is to be hypocritical: the simple premise of Celebración as an exhibition is itself a political one.
As artist/educators with a combined 25 years of teaching art experience at the college and university level, we believe that the Quinlan, to quote Spike Lee, can still "do the right thing." At this point in time it is obvious that you need us and we are willing to help. As educators we want to share and as artist we love to work - use us. However if we do not hear from the Quinlan in writing in the affirmative by August 30, 2005, we will ask the other Celebración artists to ask themselves if they can, in principle, allow their work to be exhibited in a venue that violates freedom of expression, re-marginalizes the oppressed, silences issues important to the Latino community, and uses their work as an exotic backdrop for the cultural playground of the social elite of Gainesville. Valerie Aranda has already asked the Quinlan to pull her work and we will ask the rest of the participating artists to remove their work immediately, should you reject our proposal. However, unlike the Quinlan, we will respect each artist's decision to either continue to participate in the Celebración exhibit or to pull his or her work in a Celebración of freedom of expression.
Richard A. Lou and Bill Fisher
Thank you so much for your generous support. We continue this communal struggle because we are committed to artistic freedom a goal that we all share. We ask for your help as we are planning a good old fashion picket-with-style at the Quinlan Visual Arts Center on October 1, 2005 from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm, shortly before they host the Latin Gala. What to do:
1. Please spread the word so we can have a major turnout!
2. We ask that all individuals cooperate with our guidelines regarding this event.
3. We need for folks to dress up like Lucy and Ricky Ricardo from the 50's and 60's "I Love Lucy" show
4. We want our Lucys and Rickys to parade around the block arm in arm on the sidewalk
5. We are looking for 4 volunteers to give salsa lessons during the picket
6. We need volunteers to hand out new art flyers
7. We are looking for one speaker who can speak eloquently, persuasively, and cogently about censorship
8. We need for everyone to print out and send "Missing Stereotypes" with your letter of protest to the Gainesville City Council, the Georgia Council for the Arts, news media, Gainesville Multicultural Committee, whoever else you can think of, and the following sponsors of the Latin Gala - Luna's, Community Bank and Trust, Fieldale Farms, Gainesville Bank and Trust, Prudential Georgia Realty, The Gainesville Times - about your outrage regarding the censorship of artists
9. We need a spokesperson
Our guidelines consist of the following:
… Do not endanger yourself or others
… Send all media to our designated spokesperson
… No drugs or alcohol or weapons
… We will not tolerate any unruly behavior we need for the focus to be on censorship and the Quinlan's egregious behavior, not on our behavior
… Obey the directions of our organizers they will be wearing Missing Stereotypes t-shirts
… Have a good time with us as we struggle in solidarity
Bill Fisher and Richard A. Lou
For more information please contact:
Bill Fisher: 478-454-7286, firstname.lastname@example.org
Richard A. Lou: 478-288-1018
From the Quinlan's website:
Tapas Bar opens at 8PM, Sponsored by Luna's
Dancing to Latin Band Rumba Habana, 9PM-Midnight
$50 per person, also includes two dance lessons September 22 and 27 at the Quinlan! Learn Salsa, Merengue, & Bolero!
Quinlan Visual Arts Center, and the Gainesville Multicultural Committee
Luna's, Community Bank and Trust, Fieldale Farms, Gainesville Bank and Trust, Prudential Georgia Realty, The Times
An Open Letter To Jennifer Wilbanks, And Certain Critics:
In answer to comments implying that MISSING STEREOTYPES is about a mentally disturbed young woman, guilty of succumbing to the unbearable pressures of an impending fairytale wedding:
We're sorry, Jennifer.
We're sorry that some people think the work is about a mentally disturbed young woman, guilty of succumbing to the unbearable pressures of an impending fairytale wedding. It isn't.
We're sorry we live in a world where your actions are not unique.
We're sorry we can compare your false accusations to those of Robert Harris, Jesse Anderson, Miriam Kashani, Charles Stuart and Susan Smith.
We're sorry that the mainstream media rarely chooses to focus on the racist stereotyping inherent in these false accusations, and the potential for harm and further marginalization that results.
We're sorry that individuals in your community are abusing the authority of an institution that claims to "promote and develop the visual arts in Northeast Georgia through diverse exhibits, educational programs and community involvement."
We're sorry that these cynical individuals have denied your community the opportunity to reflect on issues of social relevance.
We're sorry your own community sabotaged your ability to perform true Community Service, a service that would surpass mowing the courthouse lawn.
We're sorry large profits are made from an event which cost your community thousands of dollars, the concern of millions, and the untold heartache of your family and friends.
We're sorry that urgent social issues were ignored while the media rabidly celebrated your disappearance, your shameful, towel-covered return, and, as you stared unblinking into Katie Couric's sympathetic eyes, your final triumph of pathos.
We're sorry, Jennifer. We had no choice.
The Original Missing Stereotypes Press Release:
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
Postering Project (Richard Lou and Bill Fisher), 8" x 10", 2005