Art exhibit ignites controversy for “desecration” of American flag
A faculty exhibit at the Rosemary Duffy Larson Gallery on Broward College’s Central Campus is under fire after a BC student and veteran shared a picture on social media of one of the pieces, made primarily of the American flag.
The piece, titled “The Bride Laid Bare,” consists of the American flag cut in two and painted white. The piece was then placed on the floor, originally in the entrance of the gallery, with a separation of five inches between each half of the flag.
Lisa Rockford, creator of the controversial piece and assistant professor of art at BC, issued a statement, which hangs next to the piece, now inside the gallery, which read in part “This is an artwork made for a gallery setting, which means it was created for interpretation and symbolic meaning. That meaning will be different for each individual.”
Due to complaints by several students, the piece was moved from the entrance of the gallery to the back next to other artwork from Rockford.
Through the statement, Rockford also explained the meaning and intentions behind the art.
“The flag has been whitewashed, to represent the suppression of unpleasant histories and tensions. It is also a clean slate for our future actions. The flag has been split in two, just as our nation is divided by political discord,” she said.
Jess Karcher, the BC student and veteran who shared the photo on social media, first saw it during the opening reception but didn’t realize what it was. It was after his professor brought it to his attention that it sank in to him.
“I felt attacked, kicked in the gut, and kind of in shock,” he said. “I’ve lost buddies and their caskets are wrapped up in that flag. When I die, my casket will be wrapped up in that flag.”
And Karcher wasn’t the only one to feel that way. His post went viral within days, national media began to pick up the story, and thousands of people nationwide expressed their discontent with the art.
As the public backlash grew, BC issued a statement supporting Rockford’s First Amendment rights.
“The provocative nature of the piece is protected by the artist’s Constitutional rights, specifically the First Amendment right to the Freedom of Speech. The piece represents the opinions of the individual artist and they are not indicative of the values at Broward College, the Rosemary Duffy Larson Gallery, or the other artists featured in the exhibition,” read part of the statement.
On the other side of the issue, stood people like political science student Kelly Alvarez.
“The First Amendment protects everyone. Whether we like what they have to say, it doesn’t matter because that’s the point of it,” she said. “Professor Rockford used art as she saw fit to convey a message that inspired conversation and, at the end, it fulfilled its purpose.”
But for Karcher, the First Amendment was not the issue.
“This is not about taking the First Amedment away from her, the thing I don’t agree with is the way it was done. You should have had the description of what was going on next to it from the beginning,” he said. “There are a lot of other ways she could have gotten those points across.”
Originally, the piece was intended to be multimedia art. The concept was to film people standing over the flag and had they noticed what they had just stepped on, what their reaction would be.
However, there weren’t any notices or warnings anywhere near the piece.
“At least give me an option or a heads-up to decide if I want to participate,” said Karcher.
According to Karcher, Rockford stood by the entrance during the opening night and was filming students stepping on the flag.
“The artist started laughing and she said ‘don’t say anything’ and at the time I didn’t understand what she meant,” said Karcher.
The Observer could not independently verify Karcher’s account of the incident.
On Jan. 31, the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property (TFP) started a petition with a goal of collecting 10,000 signatures to urge “the college to respect the highest symbol of our beloved nation.”
The petition, addressed to BC’s President J. David Armstrong, Jr., has surpassed its goal and as of Feb. 8 has 10,448 supporters. BC has not yet stated whether they will take any further action regarding the piece.
“I understand if people would be mad at the piece but I think that’s the point of it,” said Alvarez. “I think it’s also a wake-up call to all of us to be aware of the world around us and, literally, of where we step on.”
The faculty exhibition will continue on display until Feb. 21.