Whose Art Is It?, an essay by Jane Kramer, talked about John Ahearn, an artist living in the South Bronx. Kramer describes John as a white male living in a predominantly African American and Hispanic community. His artworks sparked a great controversy not only in the town but the entire city of New York. His intentions were not to offend anyone but he created such a public outcry against his works that will be look backed upon forever.
John Ahearn was an active part of the community. South Bronx is known as a place of suffering, poverty, crime, drugs, unemployment, and Aids (Stimpson 18), but this did not stop Ahearn for making his artworks. His earlier works were plaster portraits of the people that lived there. Some even displayed them in their homes. So he gained acceptance in South Bronx, nobody really minded he was white. The place became home to him.
On April 1, 1986, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs began to choose? an artist to create a piece in front of a new police station in the 44th Precinct (Stimpson 19). With his gained popularity in the town, Ahearn was commissioned to make the sculpture. He believed that his sculptures should be looked upon as guardian angels or saints. He believed that the people in his work should be the everyday, real people.
To commemorate a few of the people? having trouble surviving in the street, even if they were trouble themselves. He wanted the police to acknowledge them, and he wanted the neighbors, seeing them cast in bronze and up on pedestals, to stop and think about who they were and about what he calls their South Bronx attitude (Kramer 38).
So he turned to his immediate neighbors and casted to make his pieces.
In 1992, Ahearn created three bronze figures: Raymond, a Hispanic, with his pit bull Toby; Corey, an African American with a boom box and a basketball; and Daleesha a second African American youngster on a pair of roller skates. They were not outstanding citizens, but were a part of the everyday struggle that Ahearn wanted to portray.
Kramer explains that the people were insulted and wanted a more positive image of the town. They wanted the artwork to show them not to be struggling. Some of the neighbors wanted statues of Martin Luther King or Malcom X, or statues of children in their graduation gowns, or of mothers carrying home the groceries, or of men in suits on their way to important jobs downtown (Kramer 42). Some even evoked statements about stereotypical intent and Ahearn being a racist. Neighbors complained that Ahearn was a white man and made derogatory images about the African American and Hispanics. Some called his works to be scary and too dark. He tried to make changes with casts, making them brighter and more pleasant to look at, but the majority of the public still disapproves. After five days of being displayed Ahearn would take them all down after he had just installed them with great effort. But not the entire community disagreed with the meaning of the sculptures they know that Ahearn’s intent was not to offend.
Kramer talks about the multicultural controversy that was upon the community. She says that even though Ahearn was white and making sculptures of a different race, his purpose was of a positive notion. Since he has lived there, he has done nothing but positive things for South Bronx. Trying to pinch in his share for the better of the society. His affinity to these people was very special to him and Ahearn tried to show this through his artworks. On the flip side of all these facts, there was a question of racism. The people believed that, his pieces had stereotypical connotations.
While living in the South Bronx, Ahearn learned to be like everybody else, from the people’s values, cultures, and traditions, and in return his neighbors learned his. He looked beyond racial boundaries. He accepted the challenge of being different and the town welcomed him. He believed that he spoke his mind through his artworks. Kramer argued that the public was complaining so much that they oversaw the true meaning of the three sculptures.
Ahearn once said that Art is who we are- it’s exactly who we are? Corey and Raymond are ?life,’ whether you like it or not, and if we can’t look at life, at what’s real life, how can we get beyond it? What are our alternatives? (Kramer 119).
Kramer, Jane. 1994. Whose Art Is It?. Public Planet Books.
Duke University Press.
Stimpson, Catherine R.. 1994. Introduction of Whose Art Is
It?. Public Planet Books. Duke University Press.
Arts and Painting