Magazine article Sculpture

Dread Scott Radical Conscience

Magazine article Sculpture

Dread Scott Radical Conscience

Article excerpt

Dread Scott's edict is make "revolutionary art-to propel history forward." Since the early 1990s, after graduating from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and completing the Whitney Museum of American Art's Independent Study Program, Scott has joined the ranks of historical/political artists, following in the footsteps of John Heartfield, George Grosz, and Leon Golub, along with his activist contemporaries Ai Weiwei, Nari Ward, and Berry Bickle. By using his work to raise awareness of social injustices, Scott makes clear his intention of challenging the status quo. He employs irony and humor to make powerful statements pertaining to pressing issues, including freedom of speech on a global level, state-levied violence against citizens, class inequality, and racially motivated oppression.

In Scott's lexicon, the phrase "by any means necessary" means deploying performance, installation, collage, and painting to convey his ideas and ideology. Without being didactic, he convincingly articulates the concerns of marginalized communi - ties across America-the incarcerated, urban youth, and the 99%.

Historic Corrections, which was included in "Screenings: Public & Private" (2004) at a small museum in southern New Jersey, offers a good introduction to his thoughtful shock tactics. Scott's contribution to this exhibition exploring representations of the black body beyond stereotypes featured images of incarcerated black and Latino men juxtaposed against a photomural backdrop of the 1919 lynching of William Brown. A replica of a wooden electric chair stood in the center of the installation, surrounded by mechanized police batons mounted on wooden stands. Historic Corrections knocked a sleepy suburban community out of its somnolent state and initiated a dialogue about everyday inequities just outside the museum's doors. The batons, each striking a cast fiberglass head every 10 seconds with a hard, resounding blow, were linked to live, unedited reports from a police radio. Viewers could walk through the environment and experience it from different perspectives: sometimes seeing the "urban youth" as jailed criminals, and other times, sharing their space. Everyone who confronted the work felt its impact. Many viewers of color sympathized with the sentiment of the piece, while some white viewers cringed and questioned the relevance of mounting such at work at a museum.

Courting controversy is not new for Scott. His performance work, Money to Burn (2010), part of his "It's the Economy Stupid!" series, predated Occupy Wall Street by a year. In this case, Scott was a soothsayer, a John the Baptist crying in the wilderness about economic affairs in the United States and paving the way for organized protests. His 1988 work What is the Proper Way to Display a US Flag? gen erated hundreds of responses from visitors to the gallery of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a direct rebuttal from then-President Bush. In creating this con troversial installation, Scott's intent was to defy compulsory patriotism. His efforts continued with an action in which he (together with Joey Johnson- defendant in the 1988 Supreme Court flag burning case-Dave Blalock, and Sean Eichman) burned flags on the steps of the Capitol Building to protest the Flag Protection Act of 1989. As Scott describes it, this act "would have outlawed criticism of the flag, which is one step from outlawing criticism of the government. The legisla tion contained specific wording that was added in response to, and which would outlaw... What is the Proper Way to Display a US Flag?" In 1990, he and his col laborators appeared before the Supreme Court in United States v. Eichman as a consequence of their protest.

Scott was not raised as a revolutionary, though his mother was fairly radical, her political views inspired by the ferment of the 1960s and shaped by the philosophy of the Panthers. His father, on the other hand, was politically conservative, and he believed that the way to upliftblack people resided solely in hard work, though as a small businessman, his experiences with racism hindered the family's economic success. …

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