Face down, splayed across the ground is the body of Michael Brown. It is not August 9, 2014 when Michael Brown was shot 12 times and killed by Officer Darren Wilson, and we are not in Ferguson. Instead, we are in Chicago, in the Gallery Guichard looking at a life-size sculpture of Michael Brown’s body lying face down on the ground.
There is an uncomfortable silence hanging in the room as visitors observe the work of artist Ti-Rock Moore, a white artist based in New Orleans. The Michael Brown sculpture is the main feature of the exhibit “Confronting Truths: Wake Up!” that opened July 10.
Among the Michael Brown sculpture are 50 other works in the Bronzeville neighborhood gallery, including a cross with the words “white” and “privilege” crossing one another.
Many have been cut deeply by this image of Michael Brown, and for many it brings up uncomfortable memories of the pain experienced last year in Ferguson. The exasperation and grief of that time hangs in the air at this exhibit.
“I honestly and frankly explore white privilege through my acute awareness of the unearned advantage my white skin holds,” the artist said in a statement to the Huffington Post.
Many are quick to assert, however, that Moore is rather exploiting her own privilege in using Michael Brown as inspiration for her art. In an article titled “An Art Exhibit Revictimizes Michael Brown,” writer Kirsten West Savali states that “despite Moore’s assertion to the contrary, a working definition of white privilege is white artists’ belief that they can claim artistic ownership of black death, while disowning their white guilt and being applauded for their ‘courageousness.’”
Michael Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr., spoke to a Fox News affiliate stating that he wanted the exhibition taken down: “I think it’s disturbing, disgusting … That picture is still in my head.”
Some, however, proudly stand by the exhibition, such as the co-owner of the gallery exhibiting the sculpture, Andre Guichard. In an interview with the Guardian, Guichard said that he thought the exhibit was “bold and blunt.” He reported that since the exhibit went viral, he has received hate mail and death threats.
“I think what makes this exhibit really unique is that it’s really bold and blunt, and it’s right in your face,” he said. But when you really think about racism, racism can be bold and blunt and right in your face, too.”