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LAST WEEK IN NEW YORK CITY, artist Dread Scott joined protestors in Union Square. The demonstrators were taking a stand against police killing black men after the latest incidents involving the deaths of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile in Minneapolis. Scott brought a huge black flag, holding it aloft for all to see the words emblazoned on it in white: “A Man Was Lynched By Police Yesterday.”

The flag, a work of art that was a last minute addition to the “For Freedoms” exhibition currently on view at Jack Shainman Gallery, was inspired by symbolic statement made by the NAACP about 80 years ago as a part of its anti-lynching campaign. When a black man was lynched, the civil rights organization displayed a flag outside its Fifth Avenue headquarters that read “A Man Was Lynched Yesterday.”

Born in Chicago, Scott is a Brooklyn-based artist who describes his work as “revolutionary art to propel history forward.” His practice tackles a range of social issues, often through performance.“ He is featured in “Agitprop,” a group exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum through Aug. 7 that “connects contemporary art devoted to social change with historic moments in creative activism, highlighting activities that seek to motivate broad and diverse publics.”

“A lot of my work draws on history and shows how the past sets the stage for the present, but resides in the present in a new form,” Scott told Angelica Rogers of the New York Times. “This work does just that.”

“A lot of my work draws on history and shows how the past sets the stage for the present, but resides in the present in a new form.”
— Dread Scott, New York Times

THE TIMES SPOKE TO SCOTT to get the backstory on the flag and his decision to bring it to the July 7 protest. As he recounted to the newspaper, the whole thing happened pretty fast: “I emailed Hank Willis Thomas, one of the co-founders [of For Freedoms], and asked him if we could add another piece to the show. And with commercial galleries, this unusual request was something that is just not done. Their response was, ‘How quickly can you get down here with it, come now and let’s put it up.’ But as we were measuring it to put on the wall, we also knew this demonstration was happening and we said, ‘Look, let’s just go there.’”

A digital designer, Rogers initially saw images of the flag all over social media and was drawn to it because of its graphic impact. She reported on the flag for Race/Related.

Since April, a special team of New York Times journalists has been distributing “Race/Related,” a welcome and insightful email newsletter “exploring race with provocative reporting and discussion.” In February, the Times marked Black History Month by delving into its archives and sharing unseen photographs for a project called Unpublished Black History. Race/Related grew out of that effort.

The newsletter features original reporting, further consideration of relevant Times coverage, interesting people, and provocative ideas and questions. Topics have included the death of Muhammad Ali, an experiment examining what police body cameras see, and the relationship between music and identity.

At the end of June, Times photo editor Sandra Stevenson had a conversation with Sarah Lewis, who conceived and edited “Vision & Justice,” a special edition of Aperture magazine devoted to the role of photography in the African American experience. Also in that edition of Race/Related, the editors said they were “collecting stories and recipes that touch on how food shapes identity,” and asked subscribers to share their stories about summer food.

 

LEARN MORE about Race/Related, the New York Times newsletter

 

Circa 1938, As a part of its campaign against lynching in the South, a banner hangs outside the New York headquarters of the NAACP, as a public alert that another black man had been lynched. | Courtesy Getty Images

 

RACE/RELATED ARRIVES every other week or so. This week, the newsletter appeared on Thursday under the headline “How Does This Flag Make You Feel?” Rogers’s story was also published in the Times, titled “Does This Flag Make You Flinch?”

After the protest, Scott flew the flag in front of Jack Shainman Gallery. The artist told the Times that reactions have been “overwhelmingly positive.” At the other end of the spectrum, threats were made to the allery, and specifically against Scott, that resulted in regular police drive bys to monitor the gallery as a safety precation. The gallery’s landlord threatened to sue if it was not removed from display outside. Now it is on view inside the gallery.

Scott discussed with the Times his emotional reaction to the videos documenting police killings and his own fear of police: “If you’re not touched by these videos, there is something wrong with you,” he said. “I was crying. I have a son. And I fear for him, but I feel for all the sons and daughters and people in general. But frankly I’m afraid of the police.”

“If you’re not touched by these videos, there is something wrong with you, I was crying. I have a son. And I fear for him, but I feel for all the sons and daughters and people in general. But frankly I’m afraid of the police.”
— Dread Scott, New York Times

He continued, saying his goal was to direct people toward the history of “lynch mob terror” and how the police have more recently played a similar role. “I think that saying a man was lynched by police actually brings up an important history in this country in a way that I think people get,” he told the Times. “But that’s not spontaneously how they view it.”

The Race/Related team states its mission as follows: “We want to stir up conversation, with The Times and with you. Because race matters and it’s time to listen. Share your questions and stories.” Its coverage of Scott’s lynch flag epitomizes its ambitions. CT

 

TOP IMAGE: Flag by artist DREAD SCOTT on display in front of Jack Shainman Gallery on July 8, 2016. | © Dread Scott. Photo courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery

 

READ about Dread Scott’s “On the Impossibility of Freedom in a Country Founded on Slavery and Genocide” featured in Agitprop at Brooklyn Museum

 

READ about Dread Scott’s installation What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag?

 

BOOKSHELF
Dread Scott was featured in “Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art,” the traveling exhibition and accompanying catalog organized by the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. On his website, Scott features “Fragments of the Peculiar Institution,” a limited edition volume (availability forthcoming in 2017). “In a slim volume of materials that originate with his plan to reenact the 1811 New Orleans slave revolt, the artist Dread Scott traces, with these documents, the institution of slavery in the United States and its cultural heritage.”