Artist Dread Scott sees his work as consistent, while media interest in what he does fluctuates.
For the past few years at least, there’s been great interest Scott’s work, which explores racial disparities and touches on the criminalization of youth, profiling and discrimination, stop-and-frisk tactics, the school-to-prison pipeline and other civil rights issues.
An exhibit of Scott’s work, called “A Sharp Divide,” will be on display from Sept. 6 to Nov. 5 at the Rowan University Art Gallery on High Street in Glassboro. It serves as a survey of Scott’s public engagement, multimedia-based and performance-based works from 1987 to 2014.
Scott’s art focuses on the position of blacks in society. “There has been renewed interest in my art,” he said. “I wish the circumstances why I created these works no longer existed.”
This will be Scott’s first one-person show in New Jersey, said Mary Salvante, curator and gallery and exhibitions program director at the Rowan University Art Gallery. A theme usually unifies the exhibitions each academic year. Past themes have included technology, gender issues and the body.
The criminal justice system is this year’s theme, Salvante said.
“I knew Dread Scott,” Salvante said. “I met him at various events in New York City. He is pretty vocal about his opinions.”
Scott first received attention when he created an installation for audience participation in 1988 at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, “What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag?” The flag was on the ground, and people had the opportunity to stand on it. Scott was denounced by President George H.W. Bush and the entire U.S. Congress at the time.
The installation helped lead to the Flag Protection Act of 1989 — which deemed it unlawful to keep a U.S. flag on the ground or otherwise physically defile the flag — which Scott and others opposed. His opposition to this law resulted in a U.S. Supreme Court case and a landmark First Amendment decision.
There could have been real consequences for Scott if he had lost in the Supreme Court.
“I was facing a $10,000 fine and one year in jail,” Scott said.
Scott, who is based in Brooklyn, N.Y., makes art with the goal of changing the world.
In 2012, Scott presented his performance piece, “Dread Scott: Decision,” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. He read aloud the 1857 U.S. Supreme Court Dred Scott decision, which ruled that slaves could not be American citizens and had no standing to sue for their freedom. Scott read the decision in front of four nude black men who were guarded and controlled by two German Shepherd dogs and their handlers.
Audiences were part of the performance They were put in a line, asked to walk to a voting booth one at a time and respond to questions. They had to pass through the line of black men to do this. A lengthy argument for white supremacy can be found in the text of the Dred Scott decision, said Scott, who partially based his name on the case.
“The 41-page argument became a best seller,” Scott said.
Installation, painting, performance, photography, screen printing and video are among the media Scott works in.
Scott makes decision on what form his art takes based on what is the best way to express the idea he is trying to communicate and what he can do that he has not done previously.
“I have been thinking a lot about freedom and emancipation,” Scott said. “How do I get an audience to go on a journey with me about freedom.”
Scott’s idea is to stage a re-enactment of a slave rebellion. He hopes to do this next year on the outskirts with New Orleans, with hundreds of people walking 26 miles carrying muskets.
“It will be an epic thing,” Scott said.
Scott will not be doing anything as controversial with his exhibit at Rowan University.
Some of Scott’s work can currently be seen at the African American Museum in Philadelphia as part of an exhibition called Arresting Patterns: Perspectives on Race, Criminal Justice, Artistic Expression and Community.
Salvante said the Rowan exhibit “wasn’t in response to the recent police shootings. We’ve been planning this for one year with conversations and dialogue with Rowan’s Office of Social Justice, Inclusion and Conflict Resolution.”
THE FIVE PIECES COMPRISING THE DREAD SCOTT: “A SHARP DIVIDE” EXHIBIT:
“WANTED,” installation, video and prints
“Wanted” is a community-based art project that addresses the criminalization of youth in America. It resembles a series of police wanted posters, which features a “police sketch” of a young adult, a description of them and a statement of what they are wanted for.
“STOP,” 2-channel HD projected video, running time 7:16
Of the two projections shown here, one features young men from East New York, Brooklyn, the other, young men from the Liverpool, U.K., each of whom have been stopped numerous times by the police. In the video, each repeatedly states the number of times they have been stopped.
“LOCKDOWN,” gelatin silver prints and spoken word audio
“Lockdown” is a photography and interview project that tells the story of a society that imprisons over 2 million people from the viewpoint of those locked down. Dread secured access to these inmates — photographing them and recording their stories.
“HARMED & DANGEROUS,” Cibachrome prints, soundtrack, phones, Plexiglas, wood and masonrite
“Harmed & Dangerous” presents armed black and Latino men and women enacting the symbols and signs of racist stereotypes and fears as a reflection on racial profiling and perception. The faux “prison booth” is what you might find if you visited someone in prison — you are separated from them by a wall and a thick window.
“AMERICAN NEWSPEAK... PLEASE FEEL FREE,” silver gelatin prints, books
“American Newspeak... Please Feel Free” is an installation for audience participation.
Below each paragraph, there is text that has instructions / questions to which the viewer may respond. The basic format of these instructions is: a “political” statement followed by text that informs the viewer / participant that if they agreed with the “political” statement, that they could take one of the offset prints.
“A SHARP DIVIDE”
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays to Fridays with extended hours to 7 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays from Sept. 6 to Nov. 5.
Where: Rowan University Art Gallery, 301 West High St., Glassboro, Gloucester County
How much: Free and open to the public
More info: 856-256-4521
AN ARTIST’S PRESENTATION AND PANEL DISCUSSION WITH DREAD SCOTT
When: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Sept. 15, a reception to welcome the exhibition follows from 7 to 8:30 p.m.
Where: Presentation and panel discussion in Eynon Ballroom, located in the Student Center on the university’s Glassboro campus. The reception will be held at the gallery on West High Street.
How much: Free and open to the public
More info: 856-256-4521