The NYC Parks Department has reportedly censored a public sculpture that included a noose in its design.
The West Side Rag first wrote about the incident after hearing artist Aaron Bell discuss his work, called “Stand Tall, Stand Loud” at a Community Board 7 Parks Committee meeting. According to that report, the City informed Bell that his sculpture’s design – which featured a noose with a diagonal line through it – would not be placed in Riverside Park South, where it was intended for installation. When the Rag asked the Parks Department for an explanation, they were told that “issues of particular concern include safety and durability of the artwork, and its suitability to the site,” but reportedly did not respond to specific questions about “Stand Tall, Stand Loud.”
The agency’s response here appears to have come from the submission guidelines for the Parks Department’s temporary public art program. Reviewing art based on “suitability to the site” is a broad enough guideline that it could conceivably cover almost any perceived offense; it’s not unusual for municipal or state art programs to be more specific in their requirements to keep it PC and PG.
The Parks Department did find time to respond to specific inquiries from the New York Times, which followed up on the issue a few days ago. Parks told the Times that the “Stand Tall, Stand Loud” raised concerns as it would be installed at a site “adjacent to an area regularly programmed with passive recreational activities such as yoga, Pilates and senior movement.”
The Times goes on to question “precisely when it became civic policy to guard the potential sensitivities of grown women in Lululemon,” which is a beautifully sassy sentence even though the answer is obvious: since always; it is the status quo in our country to prioritize the values of wealthy white people over anyone else (I think it’s fair to assume the Parks Department was envisioning a mostly white yoga, Pilates and senior movement audience based on Community Board 7’s demographics). That’s part of why it’s so important for cultural and governmental institutions not only to seek out and commission artists of color, but also to engage seriously with those artists’ ideas. What’s more alarming to me than concerns about putting the symbol of a noose in a public space is Bell’s statement to CB 7 that he wasn’t given an opportunity to respond to those concerns and defend his design before a decision was made about his piece.
Moving forward, Bell will replace the noose on “Stand Tall, Stand Loud” with a mouth instead, but by both reports he is not particularly happy about it.