White Artist Slammed Over Emmett Till “Open Casket” Painting


A painting of Emmett Till caught attention for all the wrong reasons at the 2017 Whitney Biennial. In “Open Casket,” Brooklyn-based artist Dana Schutz depicts the aftermath of the African-American teen’s death at the hands of two white lynchers after he was falsely accused of harassing a white woman in Mississippi back in 1955.

Schutz – a white woman herself – has since been accused of exploiting and profiting off of black suffering. According to The Huffington Post, a group of protesters blocked the image of Till’s mutilated face from public view on the Biennial’s opening day (March 17), including African-American artist Parker Bright whose shirt bore the words “Black Death Spectacle.”

“I feel like she doesn’t have the privilege to speak for black people as a whole or for Emmett Till’s family,” he said on Facebook Live.

READ: Woman Who Claimed Emmett Till Whistled At Her Now Says That Part “Isn’t True”

British-born black artist and writer Hannah Black has also taken issue with the artwork. “The subject matter is not Schutz’s,” she wrote in an open letter. “White free speech and white creative freedom have been founded on the constraint of others, and are not natural rights. The painting must go.”

According to The New York Times, Schutz has no intention of selling the piece. “I don’t know what it is like to be black in America but I do know what it is like to be a mother. Emmett was Mamie Till’s only son. The thought of anything happening to your child is beyond comprehension. Their pain is your pain. My engagement with this image was through empathy with his mother,” she said

She added, “Art can be a space for empathy, a vehicle for connection. I don’t believe that people can ever really know what it is like to be someone else (I will never know the fear that black parents may have) but neither are we all completely unknowable.”

READ: ‘Brown’ Series Challenges The Criminalization Of Men Of Color

In a statement to Artnet News, Whitney Biennial curators Christopher Y. Lew and Mia Locks insist they wanted to highlight “the importance of this extremely consequential and solemn image in American and African American history and the history of race relations in this country,” but that hasn’t assuaged the damage already done.

hey, heads up – the black community can express it’s own history, plight and injustice with out the disservice of non black artists who falsify purpose and lack message. #danaschultz expressing her white shame by using emmett till as subject matter, using the sacrifice of a black child murdered on a false claim is dana re enacting the same white privilege that essentially murdered emmett. this shows a disregard for the community and a self serving expression with no true root or purpose in subject matter. we have abundant talent, purpose, perspective, voice and a light that shines in the darkest of days. black pain and injustice is not a subject non black “artists” have privilege to dabble in whatsoever. shame on #danaschutz and #thewhitney for showing problematic work. boycott museums that hire lame curators. brilliant letter by #hannahblack , kudos to all artists who co signed and protestors doing work. destroy the painting, thanks.

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Tags: Art, Emmett Till