September 30, 2013

Artist defends Scout billboard

More on the billboard of a cowboy shooting an Indian:

Scout sculpture billboards taken down amid racism accusations

By Tony RizzoBillboards depicting a rifleman taking aim at the iconic Kansas City sculpture “The Scout” were taken down Monday after drawing a whirlwind of spirited reaction.

Artist A. Bitterman had rented the twin billboards near 19th Street and Baltimore Avenue in the Crossroads Arts District after Missouri Bank had accepted, but then rejected, the work for its Crossroads “Artboards” program.
And:Bitterman did not respond to an email seeking comment, but in a post on his website dated Sunday, he sought to explain his intention:

“The one thing that can not be disputed in my image is the fact that the Scout is not an indian at all, it is a depiction of an Indian, a sculpture, created by and for white culture, and it carries a historical narrative of what white people at the turn of the 20th century wanted the indian to be. The artist on the scaffolding is confronting that narrative.”
Comment:  I was wondering if this billboard might be some sort of artistic statement. It seemed a little bizarre that a city would allow a billboard perceived as racist hate message.

If I understand Bitterman, he's the rifleman on the billboard. And he's confronting the statue's stereotypical image of an Indian.

The statue supposedly is a metaphor for how mainstream culture has misrepresented, appropriated, and commodified Native cultures. And as a progressive artist, he wants to challenge the mainstream view of Indians by shooting and metaphorically destroying the stereotypes.

Okay, but there's one problem. It's a freakin' white man shooting an Indian. Few people are thoughtful enough to guess Bitterman's message, which is counterintuitive. Indeed, it's basically the opposite of what's on the surface.

And even if they glean a hint of Bitterman's message, as I did, it's ambiguous at best. It uses a racist act of hatred to allegedly counter racist acts of hatred. That's like destroying a village to save it.

This is the same problem faced by the German artist who displayed Chief Wahoo as an "ironic" commentary on mascots. And by hipsters in headdresses who are clever enough to say they're mocking racist stereotypes. Racism isn't a critique of racism just because you say or think it is.

As I've said in such cases, if a typical viewer can't tell the difference between racism and a satire of racism, there is no difference. We can't guess the instigator's intent, or read it on some placard. If the satire or commentary on racism isn't obvious, it might as well not exist.

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