Free Speech Groups, Artists Protest Removal of "War" Exhibit By City of Los Angeles and Watts Towers Arts Center

October 11, 2001 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES – The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, the National Coalition Against Censorship, the First Amendment Project of Oakland, CA and a large number of local and national artists announced today that they are protesting the removal of Alex Donis’ exhibit, “WAR,” from the Watts Towers Art Center. The exhibit was removed because it was deemed offensive by community members.

“Art challenges the very notion that there is only one way of seeing things,” said Heather Carrigan, Director of Public Policy at the ACLU of Southern California. “No one is required to like Mr. Donis’ art, but everyone should be allowed to make that judgment for him or herself.”

The show is comprised of a series of paintings featuring fictionalized pairings of LAPD officers and gang members in same-sex dancing poses with companion text from renowned African-American poet and performance artist, Keith Antar Mason.

The show stirred controversy when the Watts Community Action Council warned of protest and possible violent action by members of the Watts community as a result of the show. Following the warning, Art Center Director, Mark Greenfield, in consultation with Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department General Manager Margie Reese, decided to remove the exhibition.

In a letter to Mr. Greenfield and Ms. Reese, the groups and artists urged the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department to live up to the requirements of the First Amendment and take a stand for artistic expression by reinstalling the show as soon as possible. They also called for a policy to ensure that First Amendment rights are protected in the future.

“A government sponsored art space cannot legally cancel an exhibition of constitutionally protected expression merely because the art may offend the sensibilities of certain members of the community,” the groups said in the letter.

“If warnings of controversy and possible violence succeed in silencing expression, then violence prevails over freedom and democratic dialogue,” said Svetlana Mintcheva, Arts Advocacy Coordinator of the National Coalition Against Censorship.

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