Interview with Revolutionary Artist

Dread Scott and Progressive Art Exhibit Under Attack

July 13, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper |


Revolutionary artist Dread Scott has created an art work that speaks powerfully to the moment now, and has touched off controversy. The work is at the Jack Shainman Gallery, one of the most significant galleries in New York City and in the country. It has a history of showing work by challenging artists, including many Black artists, representing some of the most interesting and well-known artists in the world. had a chance to talk to Dread about the work and the events surrounding it.


A Man Was Lynched by Police Yesterday, by Dread Scott
A Man Was Lynched by Police Yesterday, 2015
84 x 52 1/2 inches
©Dread Scott. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Revolution: Can you first speak about the work itself?

Dread Scott: The artwork, quite simply, is a flag that is about 84 inches by 52 1/2 inches with white text on black background that says “A MAN WAS LYNCHED BY POLICE YESTERDAY.” And it is hanging outside of an art gallery. It is an updated version of a flag that the NAACP used to hang from their national headquarters in New York whenever someone was lynched. And their flag said “A MAN WAS LYNCHED YESTERDAY.” In the late 1920s and early ’30s they would hang this from their headquarters as part of their anti-lynching campaign. And I updated it to just add the words “BY POLICE.” And I did it in response, actually, to the police murder of Walter Scott who was killed last year, 2015, in South Carolina. Because someone was courageous enough to videotape this murder, people were able to see it. Scott was literally fleeing for his life after a traffic stop, and the cop coldly—while Scott is running—just stands there, aims his gun, shoots him,  then tries to frame Scott. But because it was videotaped the world got to see the murder. And so I made my work in response to that—as well as talking about the broader implications for society that has agents of the government that are enforcing relations of exploitation and oppression, that just murder people in cold blood.

Revolution: And this work is part of a show at the Jack Shainman Gallery.

Dread Scott: Yes, it is part of a show called “For Freedoms,” which is an exhibition that has several different artists in it, many of whom are some of the most beloved artists who do work that talks about the world we live in in a sharp way. “For Freedoms” was organized by two artists, Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman. In addition to being an art exhibition, it is also a Super PAC. It is legally a Super PAC intending to give money to artists to talk about this political climate. It is also a conceptual artwork—the Super PAC is an artwork. The idea is not to raise money for Clinton or Trump, but to challenge the whole notion of money in politics, specifically in allowing people that would raise questions that the mainstream candidates are not going to raise—to allow them to raise those questions, on billboards, subway ads, TV commercials.

Revolution: Let’s get back to the work for a moment. What was your thinking around adding “by police” to the original NAACP flag saying “a man was lynched yesterday”?

Dread Scott: Well, a lot of my work looks at how the past sets the stage for the present, but also how it exists in the present in new forms. And so, by and large, Black people are not being lynched today. That is a horror from the Jim Crow era. And yet, the police are actually playing the same role as lynch mob terror did in the late 1800s to early and mid-1900s. They kill more people in any particular decade or year than were killed at the height of lynching. While all Black people clearly weren’t lynched, the threat of lynching hung over every single Black person—that Black people could be lynched for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

And that’s the same way cops are doing people. People are getting murdered for traffic stops... for doing exactly what the cops tell them to do. You know, they’re murdered in two seconds, sitting out there with a toy gun. It’s a threat that every single Black person and Brown person—and a lot of white people—have hanging over them. Cops can just blow people away. And like lynching, the perpetrators of these crimes are never brought to justice. We’re seeing that with the Freddie Gray case. Everybody saw on the video, Freddie Gray was fine beforehand. The cops encounter him, they throw him in the back of the van, twisted up like a pretzel—and he’s dead. And the only people that had an encounter with him were the cops. Everybody knows that—nobody disputes those facts. And yet when the cops go to court, three different times so far, none of the cops are found guilty of killing him. And that’s much like the way Emmett Till was killed. Everybody knew who killed Emmett Till. Yet they went to trial by a jury of their “peers,” and these murderers got off—and then they went and laughed about it. Which is exactly what the cops are doing today.

The other thing about referencing this past is that the NAACP flag was not just a marker of the horror of lynching, but was part of building a national movement to stop that horror.  It was an act of defiance and resistance to fly that flag in the ’30s—one which the NACCP were threatened with eviction for doing.  And that legacy of defiance is being brought into the present by this artwork and joining with a broader movement fighting to end police terror.

Revolution: When did this work of yours go up?

Dread Scott: It went up at this gallery on Friday, July 8.

Revolution: And, according to a Fox News report, this work and the gallery is coming under attack...

Dread Scott: That’s the thing... where they say there’s a “controversy” around it—Fox News is trying to create a controversy. Until Fox News reported on this, the piece was overwhelmingly supported. There was no hostility. There was no protest against it. There were no calls to the gallery. There were no complaints whatsoever. But Fox News heard about this, and they did a story which both alleged that the gallery should not show the work because of the death of the cops in Dallas—as if that completely unrelated incident would be some reason why people should not have a right to make art about, show art about, or protest murder by police. And then they said the gallery was facing pressure to take the work down and that they defied that pressure. But there just was not—there was overwhelming support—until Fox News did their story, which was trying to create a hostile environment, and have the gallery face threats and intimidation.

And since then, they have. There have been hostile calls coming in to the gallery, threatening emails coming in to the gallery and to me. So Fox News is doing its “job.” But it’s a manufactured controversy. And yes, they have been stung by this—this system doesn’t want to have its police portrayed as the inheritors of lynching. They don’t want people to see that. So from their perspective, this is something that has to be denounced and repressed. But there are lots and lots and lots and lots of people who have tweeted, Facebook posts, there’s been news stories about this. So this piece has a lot of support.

Revolution: Can you say a little more about that support?

Dread Scott: I’m not a big social media person. When I usually post stuff, it will get liked by, you know, a dozen or so people. Posts about this work have been liked by hundreds of people, in some cases thousands of people if you add it all up. And shared by all sorts of people, including people like Shaun King (New York Daily News columnist and prominent voice against police terror) tweeted about it. And he’s got a huge number of followers. There are all sorts of writers and others who have a following on Twitter. Klaus Biesenbach, Chief Curator at the Museum of Modern Art. Arts organizations Creative Capital, Creative Time, the MAP Fund (all significant arts funders), the Public Art Fund (an important New York arts presenter) and the Walker Art Center (a prominent museum in Minneapolis) all tweeted. Several news sites quickly did stories: i-D/Vice, PBS News Hour, Huffington Post,, Art F City, The Smithsonian, Quartz, ArtNews, Observer, among others. Hyperallergic, which is a really great online arts magazine with a huge following did a story, and their founder/editor, in addition to writing the article has been saying this is an important work, is sending it out to people. I’ve got letters from a number of very prominent artists, saying they’re very glad to see this work out and to see my comments about it.

Revolution: This is very significant, the response and support...

Dread Scott: It’s extremely significant. The level of support, both for the actual art work itself, and the concern over the threats from Fox News, is unprecedented in my online presence and in other ways. The things is, people are outraged, particularly about the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. For anybody who had doubts or hesitation about how the police treat people, those videos shattered any illusions that anybody with a heart had. This artwork has stepped into this upsurge that’s going on right now, and it really resonates with people. I and the gallery happened to take the work to the demonstration at Union Square that happened on the Thursday just before it went up. There was a young woman, about 18 to 20 years old, a white woman who had been out of the country, and had just sort of stumbled upon the demonstration. She hadn’t seen the videos. She asked, “What’s this artwork about?” I proceeded to tell her about these two videos. And she was literally crying. She felt just the tremendous weight of—the implications of it—not just those two murders, but the fact that it’s part of this genocidal program. And then how this artwork sort of concentrated how this current program of genocide is based on the historic program of genocide.

Revolution: And the Shainman Gallery is standing firm.

Dread Scott: Yes. It would be very good if people showed their support and visited this gallery. This is an environment where mainstream politicians of one of the two major parties are calling on their supporters to beat up people at their rallies. It’s a fascist environment. Those kind of people are riled up—that’s who Fox News speaks to. Those are the kinds of people that are calling in and threatening and intimidating the gallery. And it would be good if both prominent people as well as people that are not so prominent who just want to see a really interesting show—come down to the gallery.

There’s this work by this artist named Alfredo Jaar that just says the words “Mississippi Goddamn” on one corner and then it has “[blank] Goddamn” about 150 other times. It’s very heavy. Maria Gaspar’s project has a video that has a camera slowly moving along the outside of prison walls—I think Cook County Jail. It’s this huge massive wall that separates “inside” and “outside.” There are other works that are really talking about the moment. Including an artist that has this really great work, Andrea Bowers, that has all these images of what she calls “feminist posters.” Some of them are posters from the Cultural Revolution in China, and posters from Russia during the Russian Revolution. Also various international posters of women participating in revolution in various ways, including armed defenders of the revolutionary state. There are posters of American suffragists and Black Panther women as well. And this is just a highlight of some of the work in one of the two galleries that make up the show. The work in the rest of the exhibit is equally powerful. It’s a beautiful show with frankly some very challenging, lofty work. I mean, I like my work in the show a lot, I think it’s important and touched a nerve. But people should come see the show overall and should learn from it, enjoy it—and support the gallery that’s courageous enough to show all of the work and my work. And let them know that people are counting on them, and are there to help them in the face of these threats and intimidation.

The “For Freedoms” exhibit is at the Jack Shainman Gallery until July 29, 2016. 524 W. 24th Street and 513 W. 20th Street, New York, New York. Mon.-Fri. 10 am to 6 pm. The flag appears at the 20th Street space.


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