'The Fader' Interview with SVA's Dread Scott
October 4, 2016
From The Fader: "If you live in New York City, you may have seen Dread Scott's "A Man Was Lynched By Police Yesterday" swaying in the wind outside the Jack Shainman Gallery this summer. The stark black-and-white piece, which was a part of the gallery's For Freedoms exhibit, did what much of what Scott's work has done for three decades: hit you over the head with an undeniable reflection on the state of American society. This summer's piece was a direct response to the sustained campaign of state terror inflicted on black and brown Americans across the country; in the past, Scott has used indelibly American symbols like the flag, currency, and the constitution as the basis of his 'revolutionary art' made to 'propel history forward.' Even his name, a reference to Dred Scott—the slave who famously lost a suit against the U.S. for his freedom in 1857—makes a statement.
Your piece 'A Man Was Lynched By Police Yesterday' got a lot of attention after it went up outside the Jack Shainman Gallery. Could you tell me about its genesis and significance to you?
It was made in 2015, after the police killing of Walter Scott in South Carolina. I'd been thinking a lot about police repression, police brutality, mass incarceration, and how the police are just getting away with murder after murder after murder. I made some work about that [in the past] but this was something that I felt required a new sort of response. The piece is an update of an NAACP banner that flew in the 1920s and ‘30s out front of their New York headquarters. They were trying to organize an anti-lynching campaign to stop the scourge of lynching, which, from the 1860s, was terrorizing the black community. Most black people weren't lynched, but every black person knew that they could be lynched for any reason or no reason whatsoever.
Seeing how the police have been caught time and time again—now on cell phone video—just murdering people and getting away with it, I felt that it would be appropriate to talk about how this scourge from the past is sort of existing in the present in a new form. The police have actually, across the country, been killing people at probably five to six times the rate that people were lynched at the height of lynching in the decade between 1885 and 1894. And it's disproportionately black and Latino people: you’re anywhere between four to seven times as likely to get killed by the police if you're black, as to if you're white.
So there’s this symmetry of the past stalking people in the present, but also of building resistance. One of the things that the NAACP was doing with their flag was not just marking a horror but actually trying to organize people to stop it. While they were, and are, a civil rights organization, I'm an artist and this piece is being shown in largely an art context..." (For the full interview and more photos, click here)