Artists claim responsibility for racial effigies


A group of anonymous artists claimed responsibility for effigies of two black men and a woman hanging from nooses on the University of California at Berkeley campus on Saturday.

Dr. Pablo Gonzalez, a visiting research fellow at UC Berkeley, posted a statement by the artists on Twitter Friday that he said had been placed on a campus bulletin board.

The statement identified a “Bay Area collective of queer black and PoC artists” as responsible for the images of historic lynchings, which they said were displayed in both Berkeley and Oakland. “PoC” is commonly used to refer to “people (or person) of color.”

The statement reads:

“These images connect past events to present ones — referencing endemic faultlines of hatred and persecution that are and should be deeply unsettling to the American consciousness.”

UC Berkeley police initially responded to a report at 9:10 a.m. on Saturday of two effigies hanging from Sather Gate and quickly removed them.

The department received a report of a third effigy on the campanile, the large tower on UC Berkeley’s campus, but it was already gone by the time police arrived, said UC Berkeley police spokeswoman Claire Holmes.

Each effigy had the words “can’t breathe” written over life-sized photographs of black Americans hanging from nooses. Demonstrations against police brutality in the Bay Area and across the nation have used the last words of Eric Garner, “I can’t breathe,” as a rallying cry in recent weeks.

Garner was killed in Staten Island in July when a police officer used a chokehold to restrain him. A New York grand jury declined in December to indict the officer involved in Garner’s death.

The anonymous group of artists said they “respectfully disagree” with people who think the images are no longer relevant to the reality of life for black Americans today.

The statement said:

“Garner, Brown, and others are victims of systemic racism.”

The statement referenced Michael Brown, an unarmed black man killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, earlier this year.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele issued a statement today describing the effigies as “deeply disturbing” and urged those responsible to come forward and explain their intent:

“The African American community has historically faced the terrorism of lynchings used in an attempt to suppress and control. … While we do not know the intent of the effigies, the impact that it has had on our campus community is undeniable.”

The artists apologized to black Americans who may have felt attacked by the work and said they shared their pain and their history. They also urged viewers to research the lives and deaths of the individuals portrayed in the effigies:

“For those under the mistaken assumption that the images themselves were intended as an act of racism — we vehemently disagree and intended only the confrontation of historical context.”

The statement said Laura Nelson, George Meadows, Michael Donald, Charlie Hale, Garfield Burley and Curtis Brown were each represented in the work. The artists declined to identify themselves because they said:

“… this is not about us as artists, but about the growing movement to address these pervasive wrongs.”

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