This morning, residents of Richmond, Virginia, awoke to a startling sight: eight effigies of clowns dressed as members of the Ku Klux Klan hanging by their necks from a tree in historical Bryan Park.
The provocative guerrilla art installation was created by the anonymous artist collective Indecline — which scored a major viral hit last summer with its nude statues of then presidential candidate Donald Trump — and is cheekily titled “Ku Klux Klowns.”
The work was installed overnight in the park, which was promptly shut down by Richmond police this morning, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported (though WWBT reported that the park has since reopened). A sleek video released by the artists shows the creation and installation of the piece, complete with Indecline-branded gloves and balaclavas.
The installation consists of the eight figures, with oversize red clown shoes and colorful wigs protruding from their KKK robes, suspended from nooses fastened around their necks. One of them wears a small wood placard that reads: “If attacked by a mob of clowns, go for the juggler — Indecline.” The work was intended as a commentary on the recent spate of violent gatherings of white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and other hate groups, which have become increasingly visible and openly hostile in the past two years. A white nationalist rally is reportedly being planned in Richmond next week.
“We really had two audiences in mind for this piece,” the collective told Hyperallergic. “Those currently subscribing to white nationalist ideals and then everyone else. That’s really what it boils down to. These racist movements are so small compared to those opposing them and we feel confident that what we need now is solidarity on all fronts.” How exactly a mock hanging of eight racist clowns will help build solidarity is unclear, though the image indisputably provides some catharsis.
The group’s choice of location, meanwhile, was much more poignant. Indecline explained: “Richmond was the capital of the Confederate South and Joseph Bryan Park was the site of a slave uprising, lead by Gabriel Prosser in the 1800s.”
Indeed, in the summer of 1800, Prosser — an enslaved blacksmith — plotted the uprising commonly known as “Gabriel’s Rebellion,” though it was squashed before it could even begin. Prosser attempted to flee but was captured and eventually executed by hanging, along with more than 20 of his alleged co-conspirators. In 2007, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine issued Prosser a full pardon, writing therein: “Gabriel’s cause — the end of slavery and the furtherance of equality of all people — has prevailed in the light of history.” Just last month, a Change.org petition was launched calling for the creation of Gabriel Prosser monument in Richmond.
Update, 9/8: Several local political figures and members of local civil rights advocacy groups have responded to yesterday’s Indecline stunt. “When you look at something like that, whether you consider it art or not art, lynching is not something that we’re in agreement with at all,” James Minor, president of the Richmond branch of the NAACP, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “We do not support any groups that support violence.”
The president of Richmond’s City Council, Chris Hilbert, whose district includes the park where the work was hung, added: “Bryan Park is a beautiful park and people deserve better than someone coming in and defacing public property with a very hurtful and distasteful imagery — regardless of the intended message.”