A 10th Grader’s Artwork Is Setting Off a Shitstorm of Ridiculous Controversy

by Michael Anthony Farley on March 25, 2016 · 2 comments Newswire + Opinion

Denver kkk cops

On March 15th, an exhibition of high school students’ artwork went up in the atrium of Denver’s Wellington Webb Municipal Building. And now a lot of grown men are crying crocodile tears about it. An unnamed 10th grader responded to an assignment to recontextualize a piece from art history with contemporary themes by combining Goya’s “The 3rd of May 1808” with the more recent “A Tale of Two Hoodies” by Michael D’Antuono. Those paintings commemorate the execution of Spanish resistance fighters by Napoleon’s armies, and the murders of African American youth by police and vigilantes, respectively. Predictably, the #BlueLivesMatter reactionaries are out in full force to cry victim.

“This is not freedom of expression but an attempt to peddle hateful and racist trash as art! It is a racist message against police officers!” claimed Butch Montoya, a former city safety manager, in what has to be one of the single dumbest pieces of amateur art criticism, emailed to the Denver Post. Let’s dissect that statement, which begins with the erroneous assumption that “freedom of expression” and “peddling hateful and racist trash” are mutually exclusive concepts. Mostly I’m baffled as to how something can be “racist” against “police officers”, which is a term denoting an occupation/position of power, not a racial identity. There’s no long history of people being born as police officers and then facing systematic oppression and violence because they’ve inherited a certain percentage of police DNA. Nevertheless, this demographic certainly feels marginalized and personally attacked by the homework assignment of a teenage girl.

“That’s a horrible stereotype… ‘hand’s up don’t shoot’ never happened. We all know that. It’s been proven,” claimed Nick Rogers of the Denver Police Protective Association in an interview with local news. “I’d love to sit down and talk to them, let them know who I am, and who all cops are!” I’m sorry, what exactly has been proven? That police killed 102 unarmed black people in 2015, and that only 9 of those killings were prosecuted as crimes? Or perhaps that Denver, where Rogers represents the Police Protective Association, has the second-highest rate of police killings in the nation, second only to Baltimore?


If I were the girl whose artwork was at the center of this controversy, I’d be scared shitless to sit down with a representative of the Denver PD, who have planned a meeting with the student and her parents, according to Westword. This intimidation tactic and public shaming seem to have worked—the student has requested that the artwork be removed from the exhibition to quell the controversy. In the same article, Michael D’Antuono, who painted “A Tale of Two Hoodies,” chimed in:

“I’m disappointed that the student was bullied into having the piece removed as it apparently was doing its job in bringing attention to the issue. She should have been praised for inspiring critical thought instead of being derided by those who just might have a guilty conscience.”

This comes on the heels of similar controversies. In Nevada a teacher was suspended and almost lost her job for showing D’Antuono’s painting to students. Just last month, police officer Dan Hamblin sparked a social media uproar over a similar student artwork comparing police violence to lynching in a Kentucky school. Last year, a student exhibition at a highschool in New Jersey on the topic Law Enforcement- Police Brutality sparked a media storm stoked by offended police. Retired police officer Laurie Maloney complained, “When I was young, we were told the police were good and if you had problem to go to the police. Showing these pictures to kids could cause them to be afraid of police, and I think that’s wrong.”

Except that black and brown children should be afraid of police as a matter of survival. If police and their unions want to stop children from drawing pictures of police murdering children, maybe they should focus their attention on stopping police from actually murdering children.

Whenever those with power obsessively whine at the powerless about the politics of representation, I’m reminded of this Felix Gonzalez-Torres quote about the Culture Wars in the context of the neoconservative agenda:

“It’s going to go on for a while, but first of all, we should not call it a debate. We should call it what it is, which is a smoke screen. It is no accident. As we know, everything, that happens in culture is because it is needed… I read all this data and tried to make sense of what happened during the eighties, during the last Republican regime, how the agenda of the right was implemented and that was an agenda of homophobia and the enrichment of 1% of the population…. Why worry about that when we can worry about $150 given to an artist in Seattle to do a silly performance with his HIV blood? Why worry about $500 billion in losses in the Savings and Loan industry when $10,000 was given to Mapplethorpe? Because the threat to the American family, the real threat to the American family is not dioxin and it’s not the lack of adequate housing, it’s not the fact that there has been a 21% increase in deaths by gun since 1989.


That’s not a threat. The real threat is a photograph of two men sucking each other’s dicks. That is really what could destroy us. It makes me wonder what is the family. How come that institution is so weak that a piece of paper could destroy it? Of course, you ask yourself, why now and why this issue and you realize that something else is happening. This is a smoke screen to hide what they have already accomplished.”

102 unarmed black people were murdered by police in 2015 alone. To put that in perspective, French troops executed 112 Spanish resistance fighters in the Dos de Mayo uprising as part of a one time 19th century exercise in imperialism. To the best of my knowledge, France doesn’t send EU ambassadors to bitch about Goya’s painting hanging in the Museo del Prado. Grow the fuck up, cops.

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