A University of Miami art professor caused a stir in the art community after turning American flags into Ku Klux Klan (KKK) hoods.
Billie Grace Lynn, a University of Miami associate professor of sculpture, created the project, titled “American Mask.” The American flags have eyes burnt out and are displayed on a cart with wheels in the shape of swastikas.
“American Mask is a work suggesting that bigotry and racism are hiding behind our American flag. By using the shape of KKK hoods made from the American flags, I point to our sad history of intolerance and violence and hope that the work acts to awaken citizens to the danger of confusing bigotry with patriotism,” Lynn wrote on her personal website.
“American Mask” will be on display at the University of Miami’s annual faculty art show inside the Wynwood Building until Nov. 12, Miami New Times reported.
Lynn, who was raised in Louisiana and earned an undergraduate degree from Tulane University and a master of fine arts in sculpture at the San Francisco Art Institute, said she created the artwork in response to watching people walk with American and Nazi flags during the Charlottesville protest in August.
“I just thought, that’s what needs to be protested — that the American flag is positioned in between those two symbols of hatred and racism,” she told the University of Miami News. “If there was ever a time to show this work, it’s now.”
“I consider myself a patriot,” Lynn told the Miami New Times. “We have to wake up and see what is happening in our own country.”
“I have been really disturbed by all the things that have happened in this country, particularly since the election,” she said. “People really felt they could hide their racism behind the flag… The flag is not sacred in itself.”
“I’ve always felt that art could and should act as a mirror to the culture, so that we can have these kinds of conversations within the context of talking about art,” Lynn told the University of Miami News.
Lynn detailed a conversation she had with an angry construction worker who considered the piece to be racist.
“I asked him what he thought it meant and he said, ‘It’s racist.’ And I said, ‘Well, it is racist, it’s about racism. It’s about people hiding their racism behind the flag, behind their patriotism.’ Instantly all of his angry energy just dissipated as he had this realization. This is what democracy is. It’s messy business and it requires us to talk with each other,” Lynn said.
Lynn told the University of Miami News it was hard creating “American Mask,” especially after having previously been taught as a Girl Scout not to let the flag touch the ground.
“I consider myself a patriot and I love this country. It was very painful for me to cut the flag to make it into that shape. But I think that’s what’s happening, the country is in pain,” she said. “We’re being torn apart by believing that somehow having nationalistic pride is connected to being of a certain race, the white race, and the real truth of this country is that we’re a melting pot, people from all over the world with different beliefs, different orientations, different ideas. That’s what makes America great. And I don’t want the American flag to be taken as a symbol for white supremacy, and I think that is what’s happening and that’s a dark path to go down.”
The University of Miami hopes “conservations can happen in ways that are respectful of all points of view,” the university wrote in a statement to Fox News. “The university acknowledges that this installation will provoke a range of reactions, including offense at the use of the American Flag and use of the KKK and Nazi symbols. Art exhibits that provoke reaction and conversation are not new, nor the unique province of the University of Miami.”