The Soapbox: Chicago Artist Exploits Michael Brown’s Death With Tone-Deaf Attempt To Examine Her Own White Privilege

While attempting to explore white privilege in her latest exhibit, artist Ti-Rock Moore displayed a tone deaf approach of precisely that — white privilege. Moore’s exhibit, Confronting Truths: Wake Up!“, which recently opened in Chicago, was created, according to the artist, to “honestly and frankly… explore white privilege through my acute awareness of the unearned advantage my white skin holds.” The exhibit features a human figure, meant to represent Ferguson’s Michael Brown, surrounded by police tape and lying in the face-down position that Brown was left in after being shot and killed by officer Darren Wilson. A position in which he laid for four hours  in the middle of the street with blood streaming from his head for young children and horrified adults to see — including Brown’s grandmother, who watched from a distance. Officers did not respect Brown’s dignity in life or death. No one, at any moment, decided it would be just to at least cover him up. Ti-Rock Moore has now also denied Michael Brown that dignity in her quest for personal gain and self-expression.

Though I do commend artists for trying to further conversations by pushing boundaries and exploring complex issues, the long history of Black death used as spectacle paints this art project with a layer of ugly racism. Anyone who went to high school in America and paid attention in history class is familiar with black and white images of Black people being lynched for public entertainment, with white people looking on undisturbed or even gleefully. When we consider the fact that many have compared the murder of Black citizens by police to Jim Crow Era lynchings, it’s hard to imagine why Moore believed this public display of a black man’s “lynching” by police would be at all appropriate.

Moore claims to have gotten permission from Brown’s family, but according to Pelicanbomb.com, that might not be the case:

“I was concerned about the family’s reaction to the work at first, but I knew I needed to ask their permission out of respect for their son. Not only did they give me their blessing, but they felt it would preserve the memory of their son and keep the movement going.”

Yet, Brown’s father released a video in which he referred to the Chicago exhibit of his son “disturbing” and “disgusting”. It seems that Ti-Rock Moore only believes mothers care for their children, because she obviously had no respect for the wishes of this father who is still haunted by the picture of his son’s lifeless body in his head. He explained, “I have no, no problem with the person that created that, but I think they should’ve at least asked both sides of the family.”

I do have a problem with the artist expressing concern about the family’s reaction and claimed that she needed to ask for permission to do the work, but somehow failed to gain it from Brown’s own father — a blatant disregard of their grief and mourning.

I also question why Gallery Guichard’s Black owners, Andre and Frances Guichard, went forward with Moore’s tone-deaf exhibit without consulting with all of Michael Brown’s family. Perhaps the gallery’s efforts to “revitalize” their Bronzeville neighborhood requires controversy. Sadly, this controversy comes at the expense of a father’s psychological well-being, which has already been irreparably damaged from losing his son in such a gruesome way and baring witness to the ugly racial tension exploded in the aftermath. Both the artist and the gallery owners are capitalizing on this loss and tragedy, though Ti-Rock Moore denies that.

When asked in that same Pelicanbomb.com interview how the artist would respond to the accusation that she is profiting from the very racism she decries, Moore responded, “My art is expensive to make. I am very far in the hole, and it has gotten to the point that I must start making money to be able to make more art.”

Moore, who adopted the name Ti-Rock a year ago, around the same time she began her artistic endeavors in February of 2014, sure has no problem asking for some big money for her pieces. The exhibit — decorated with nooses and other racist paraphernalia — features several other works, including:

  • an image of crucified Jesus, stifled by a bag over his head, with the title “I Can’t Breathe” – $5,000
  • a piece that supposedly critiques the Tea Party entitled “The Last Stand of the White Man” – $5000
  • a Confederate flag with the names of the nine victims of the Charleston massacre – $4,500

Activist Johnetta Elzie live-streamed her visit to the gallery via Periscope and captured this image of “The Last Stand of the White Man” piece. A Fusion.net writer pointed out that the same Disney Princess tea set could be bought on eBay for $16.99:

teaset

Also, there are no indications that any of the money made from this exhibit will be going to the families of those who were slain and oppressed and provided “inspiration” for the artwork. I guess ordering a tea set and coming up with a way to connect it to racism can be both emotionally and financially taxing, huh? Ordering a life-size mannequin and surrounding it with hazard cones and police tape must be too. Who knew? Never mind the harsh reality that many Black artists and activists who dedicate their lives to furthering conversations around racism often struggle to keep a roof over their heads.

Though Ti-Rock Moore proclaims that she is an activist first and an artist second, whatever activism she has participated in or hopes to inspire is most assuredly overshadowed by her insensitive commodification of Black death and oppression. Yes, it is true that Black people need allies who are willing to step into conversations about race and further the discussion by examining white privilege. But let’s be clear: displaying that privilege by appropriating Black pain for profit under the guise of art is not the way to do so.