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(photo via @2gmakeamove/Instagram)

A view of the controversial Michael Brown-related exhibition in Chicago. (photo via @2gmakeamove/Instagram)

Almost one year after the shooting of Michael Brown by former police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, the scene of Brown’s death has re-appeared in the form of an artwork in a Chicago gallery. “Confronting Truths: Wake Up,” shown at Gallery Guichard, features a life-size sculptural rendering of a lifeless Brown lying face-down behind police tape, surrounded by yellow evidence markers and a replica of the 18-year-old’s red Cardinals baseball cap. The exhibition, which opened on Friday, is the first solo show of Ti-Rock Moore, a New Orleans artist whose previous works also engage with issues of race. It features 50 pieces by Moore, including a noose, a black Statue of Liberty, and the words “WHITE PRIVILEGE” intersecting to form a cross, but the Michael Brown sculpture soon garnered backlash from viewers. Moore, who is white, marks her identity as the starting point of her work; the show’s press release quotes her as saying, “Honestly and frankly, I explore white privilege through my acute awareness of the unearned advantage my white skin holds.”

Many have accused Moore of unnecessarily revisiting trauma and exploiting Brown’s death under the guise of art. On Sunday, Johnetta “Netta” Elizie, a leader of We the Protestors, visited the exhibition and live-streamed it on Periscope to her over 50,000 followers, triggering even more criticism. (The entire video is online.) On the Root, senior writer Kirsten West Savali penned one of the more poignant responses so far, in which she accuses Moore of “revictimizing” Brown.

“My reaction is to her having her white hands on Michael Brown’s black body when he’s not here to protect himself,” Savali wrote, comparing Moore’s handling of the body to Kenneth Goldsmith’s dramatic reading of the autopsy report as a form of poetry.

(screenshot via @GalleryGuichard/Twitter)

As public outrage mounted, the gallery pointed out that it had reached out to Brown’s family prior to the exhibition’s opening, responding to many angry tweets it received with a photograph of his mother Lesley McSpadden and other family members posing with Moore. Although a short statement from Brown’s father, posted on his Facebook profile on Saturday, suggested that the gallerists had not actually received his approval, they continued to use familial consent as a defense. However, in an interview that aired yesterday evening, Michael Brown’s father said that he found the exhibition “really disturbing, disgusting.”

“That thought, that picture is still in my head,” he told FOX2. “The feelings that I kind of tried to ball up and put to the side a little bit … that just brought the whole day back to life. I have no problem with the person who created it, but I think they should have reached out to both sides of the family.”

According to the Guardian, McSpadden, too, had a painful surprise when she saw the show in person. Although she had allowed Moore to include an artwork of her son in the exhibit, McSpadden had assumed the piece was a photograph rather than a realistic mannequin. She asked the gallery to cover the installation during her visit, which it reportedly did.

As Savali notes on the Root, what’s especially striking about this incident is the language both the gallery and Moore use to present the show. Gallerist Andre Guichard labelled the exhibit as a “courageous” move by his space, and the press release champions it, too, as “PROVOCATIVE, ILLUMINATING, COURAGEOUS!”

The promotional flyer features a prominent headshot of Moore, with smaller images of the actual works below; a larger version of it also hangs outside the gallery. It seems odd that so much attention is focused on Moore when the show is supposedly about her white privilege. Revisiting her statement of her work, which the flyer includes while denying its reader any specific context to the art, it’s hard to ignore that although Moore’s words seek to portray her as an ally to the black community, they simultaneously have a tinge of a self-rewarding tone [emphasis added]: “I explore white privilege through my acute awareness of the unearned advantage my white skin holds.”

Despite all the controversy the show has stirred, Gallery Guichard intends to stand behind Moore and keep all of her works on view. As Frances Guichard told the Guardian, “This [exhibition] is something that needs to stay alive because we need to do what Ti-Rock says and understand what white privilege does to the African American community.”

Hyperallergic reached out to both Moore and the gallery but received no response to requests for comment.

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Claire Voon

Claire Voon is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Singapore, she grew up near Washington, D.C. and is now based in Chicago. Her work has also appeared in New York Magazine, VICE,...

36 replies on “An Art Exhibition Featuring Michael Brown’s Body Has Many People Angry”

  1. Moore and Gallery Guichard can dress this up as “courageous and avant-garde,” but it’s nothing more than a modern lynching postcard. It’s incredible what people will do in the name of “solidarity” or as an “ally.” Perverse.

  2. This woman’s biggest crime here is just being shallow and boring. And when you don’t actually “explore” anything and rather just try to illustrate some very easy, already accepted position such as ‘racism is painful,’ then all you do is reveal your lack of understanding. In the case of race, most white people haven’t dug very deep, so work about racial issues ends up being pretty superficial and offensive in that it just preserves white people’s “rightness.” White artists have to be willing to be wrong to “explore” anything.

    I went to Ferguson in the wake of the killing of Mike Brown and subsequent community protest just to feel what it was like there. I made friends with Dre who lives there. We hung out and he showed me the Mike Brown memorial where a bunch of white people were driving in and out in their cars, taking pictures. I made a painting of this. I hope that my work actually DOES “explore my privilege” in a real and sincere way, along with other related themes. This is titled, “Dre Looking at Me Looking at the Mike Brown Memorial.”

        1. I also don’t see how recreating the scene of Mike Brown’s death explores the artist’s white privilege. She’s doesn’t put herself in the piece at all. Instead she remains on the outside as the unseen creator of the scene which is pretty much the embodiment of white privilege. I implicate myself in my painting. I show my whiteness, my gaze, my presence. I am willing to be the bad person in my work. That’s what I mean by sincerity.

          1. I understand the impulse to discuss it, but I’m not sold on how valuable it is. The recognizing privilege trend seems to shift the focus from the victim and the real issue over to a white person who wants a pardon from black america for the crime of being born. It’s good to have the most basic level of self awareness, but it should probably be one of those things you reflect on quietly out of respect.

          2. I was not stating it as a good or bad thing just as insincere. There is no such thing as sincere white privilege just as there is no such thing as an a male feminist. I will never experience menstruation, child birth, or irrational mood swings. No art piece I can produce will ever do that. There are always limitations to one’s identity. My statement was to recognize reality in context.

            I do see what you are attempting to accomplish in your work however I see Moore’s to be more successful because she allows the audience to experience it more genuine sympathy. Its an objective presentation allowing for a subjective response.

            I’m sorry to say even though you have very valid experiences in the subject your white privilege still does not allow you to consciously comprehend the importance of the piece.

  3. What the artist won’t tell you is that the Brown crime scene proved officer Willisons case! Backed up by the Obama DOJ investigation!

        1. Yeah, thats what I am wondering. It seems a likely scenario that Brown wasn’t trying to get Wilson’s gun out if his holster but to push Wilson’s gun away so he would not get shot because Wilson had already pulled his gun.

          1. For good ole boys like #ichoosewhitestupidity..the Faux News and racist white AmeriKKKa narrative of what happened is the one he will embrace.

          2. Well, yes, I understood what you were getting at there. The trouble with that take is, correct or not, Brown would have been in violation of the law by initiating physical contact with the officer, for which there isn’t a legal defense. There have been cases where civilians have fought back from police attacks and won their case, but they involve reactions to officers acting against the law first, such as warrantless home raids. Had Brown lived to tell that side of the story, your take on the situation, he would be admitting guilt to a prosecutable offense, likely assaulting an officer. This happened to a friend of mine who was jumped by several cops. He fought back and got a month in jail, convicted of no other crime. This would be the best outcome for Brown in your scenario.

        2. Since no measurement was done of the crime scene..because there measuring equipment ran out of batteries ..how do you know where Mike Brown was? Oh I know same corrupt racist police and coroner in Ferguson told you how close Mike Brown was.. When a racists KKKop grabs you and pulls you into his car to assault I guess it can bring you pretty close eh snowflake?? Guess you never thought of that scenario!

    1. God you sickos are still peddling this BS that racist white killer Wilson was JUST in his cold blooded murder of an unarmed teenager? he shoots an UNARMED human being 16 times at point blank range blowing his head off and you white devils are saying he is JUSTIFIED because Mike Brown did not have his hands up as much as you would like when he was gunned down like a dog, when he was used as target practice like Walter Scott in SC? You sickos would be saying the same thing about Walter Scott if was not on video,.. you would be saying he tried to grab the white KKKops gun or some cocammamee excuse. Obama DOJ was not there and every day the FBI gets things wrong, there is a big scandal going on now about FBI lies and incompetence in processing forensic evidence. The DOJ is not OBama’s DOJ, Like the FBI its ,made up white racists and sickos just like every oter AmeriKKKan institution, so calling it Obama DOJ is a lie and deflection. I put more faith in the black eyewitnesses and the two white construction workers who saw the cold blooded murder of Mike Brown with his hands up than I do some white hacks at DOJ and FBI. Plus DOJ did not back up Wilson they said it could not be determined…thats NOT backing Wilson or FAUX News and the likes of you up homie!!.

      1. Oh not BlacKKK MessKKKiah again… You should have your own television show where you just call every white person racist and at the same time claim a group of people have been chosen by almighty God.

        For the record I didn’t support the police department or Wilson.

        1. My friend just deal with the facts I lay out …dont worry about my name..if you cant handle facts and straight talk thats your problem…I am not running for office so I can speak TRUTH to racist white AmeriKKKa and dont give a rats @$$ what they think!!. After ALL the hell black people have been thru for the past 600 years and counting at the filthy hands of you Satanic Neanderthal bastards…. We have to be God’s Chosen people just to have survive it and still standing up in yo face still throwing punches. .. We remain bloodied but unbowed!!! .. we will win in the end…. even if it takes 10,000 years….Thats da black man fo ya bud!!

    2. That’s right, this is simply another example of the police being blamed for racism just because they keep arresting and shooting black criminals.

  4. Art provokes thoughtful consideration and conversation. The abuse that is still going on in this country is very painful. This installation keeps the conversation going, which it should. I would rather talk about abuse in the open than trying to force it in the background only to be forgotten. Change only happens when someone starts a dialog and brings the ugliness of humanity to the forefront.

    What I found most disturbing is Johnetta “Netta” Elizie interview with the gallery owner. He was very calm and tried very hard to handle her with grace. She on the other hand was dishonest and tried to manipulate the owner to get the answers she wanted. He focused on honest answers; hats off to you!

  5. It’s disturbing that she would use Brown as a prop in a discussion of her whiteness. Making a career of co-opting these pain-filled symbols is the definition of privilege.

  6. Frankly I am not offended by this exhibition…. white… black… purple …I dont care who put on the exhibit, I am just glad some one has not forgotten about the cold blooded murder of Mike Brown by a racists coward KKKiller name Wilson. White AmeriKKKa’s racist, corrupt, and unjust system has let that white terrorist Wilson go free, but YAHWE and KARMA will deal with him and his descendants for generations to come!!/…. Mike Brown’s great African ancestors from the spirit world will visit Wilson and his household in due course!!

      1. Well there are things that are Not of tis world my friend…Wilson and his ilk thinks that killing a black man gives them power over the black man,to them it shows the power of white supremacy ..but the black man deals in the metaphysical world also, something the Caucazoid Neanderthal does not comprehend or can fully grasp. When we were building the pyramids 5,000 years ago and they were living in caves in Europe eating raw meat- the black man had already graduated to higher degree of consciousnesses and dimension in metaphysics- a power we still possess and can summon at will to overcome our enemies. Wilson and his ilk bullets may kill the physical but the black man-Homo Sapien human spirit they can NOT kill … it will always come back to haunt them and their progenies ” Sins of thy fathers shall visit thy sons” …. so it is written so it shall be done!!

  7. I kinda like it. Can’t the artist do one of Michael Brown pushing and intimidating the store owner before walking out of the store with a handful of stolen cigars?

  8. I think you guys will like this Michael Brown Ferguson artwork better. It shows what really happened in Ferguson.
    It is by an artist named Poppy.

    Lesson: If you punch a cop in the face multiple times, grab his gun, charge the cop pretending to have a pistol in your pants, you will get shot.

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