Artists beware in Bush's Amerika


Art in Amerika
Art in Amerika

Lori Haigh, a North Beach district gallery owner, bears a black eye delivered by an unknown assailant who apparently objected to the painting that depicts US soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners, San Francisco, Calif.

Gallery Owner Attacked for Iraq Abuse Art

May 29, 2004

By LISA LEFF, Associated Press Writer

SAN FRANCISCO - A San Francisco gallery owner bears a painful reminder of the nation's unresolved anguish over the incidents at the Abu Ghraib prison — a black eye delivered by an unknown assailant who apparently objected to a painting that depicts U.S. soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners.

The assault outside the Capobianco gallery in the city's North Beach district Thursday night was the worst in a string of verbal and physical attacks directed at Lori Haigh since the artwork was installed at her gallery on May 16.

San Francisco police are investigating and have stepped up patrols around the gallery. But Haigh decided to close the gallery indefinitely, citing concern for the safety of her two children, ages 14 and 4, who often accompanied her to work.

Guy Colwell's painting, titled "Abuse," depicts three U.S. soldiers leering at a group of naked men in hoods with wires connected to their bodies. The one in the foreground has a blood-spattered American flag patch on his uniform. In the background, a soldier in sunglasses guards a blindfolded woman.

The painting was part of a show of the Berkeley artist's work that mostly featured pastel-colored abstracts.

Colwell stopped by the gallery Friday, but refused to discuss his work or the reaction to it, saying only, "I'm sorry if this is putting pressure on Lori."

Two days after the painting went up in a front window, someone threw eggs and dumped trash on the doorstep. Haigh said she did not think to connect it to the events at Baghdad's notorious prison until people started leaving nasty messages and threats on her business answering machine.

"I think you need to get your gallery out of this neighborhood before you get hurt," one caller said.

She removed the painting from the window, but the gallery's troubles received news coverage and the criticism continued. The answering machine recorded new calls from people accusing her of being a coward for moving the artwork.

Last weekend, Haigh said a man walked into the gallery, pretended to scrutinize the painting for a moment, then marched up to her desk and spat in her face.

On Thursday, someone knocked on the door of the gallery, then punched Haigh in the face when she stepped outside.

"This isn't art-politics central here at all," Haigh said. "I'm not here to make a stand. I never set out to be a crusader or a political activist."

In closing the gallery, Haigh was forced to cancel an upcoming show featuring counterculture artist Winston Smith.

For Haigh, who opened Capobianco a year and a half ago, having the chance to work with prominent artists fulfilled a lifelong dream.

"I kept thinking someday I'll have enough of a reputation where I could bring in my heroes of the art world, people like Guy Colwell especially," she said.

Haigh has received some expressions of support since closing the gallery. Her favorite: an e-mail whose writer said, "I'm sure that a few and dangerous minds don't understand that they have only mimicked the same perversity this painting had expressed."

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the irony ...

Bruce Lie 01.Jun.2004 19:00

The irony of Haig's unfortunate experience is that the her assault and humiliation
proves that the Abu Ghraib torture is not simply a few bad individuals in the US army, but
a genuine hostile aggressive behavior that pervades firstly the US administration's
warmongering rash mentality and secondly a greater portion of a conniving US populace,
excluding a comparatively smaller portion of a fearful peaceful US populace.