Published on Thursday, June 3, 2004 by the The Progressive
McCarthyism Watch: S.F. Art Gallery Owner Beaten Up for Showing Anti-Torture Painting
by Matthew Rothschild
Lori Haigh runs an art gallery in San Francisco. Well, she used to.
On May 16, according to AP, she installed a piece of artwork by Guy Colwell entitled "Abuse." The painting (which you can see at www.nobeliefs.com/abuse.htm) is an elaboration of the torture that went on at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. In the foreground of Colwell's painting are two grinning U.S. soldiers, one man and one woman, with American flags on their sleeves. The man is holding a cattle prod, and the woman, a cigarette dangling from her mouth, is holding electrical wires. Those wires are attached to the fingers of three naked male Iraqi detainees, who are standing on cylinder blocks. The prisoners are hooded. In the background, two other American soldiers in sunglasses are leading a shackled and blindfolded woman into the room.
Haigh placed the painting in the front window of her gallery. Two days later, "someone threw eggs and dumped trash on the doorstep," AP reported, and "people started leaving nasty messages and threats on her business answering machine." She told AP that she received "about 200 angry voicemails, e-mails, and death threats."
So she decided to remove the painting, but still things got worse.
One day, someone walked into the gallery and spit in her face.
And then on May 27, someone "knocked on the door of the gallery, then punched Haigh in the face, knocking her out, breaking her nose, and causing a concussion," AP said. Two days later, she still had a bad black right eye, with purple on the cheek next to the eye, one bandage over the nose, and another over her right eyebrow.
The abuse was too much for her--she has two young kids--so she has closed her gallery down. If you go to capogallerysf.com, you will see a picture of the gallery's front door, with yellow caution tape across the front. "The Capobianco Gallery is closed," the site says.
"This isn't art-politics central here at all," Haigh told AP. "I'm not here to make a stand. I never set out to be a crusader or a political activist."
On Saturday, May 29, artists, poets, and other defenders of the First Amendment rallied in support of Haigh, her gallery, Colwell, and free expression.
"In effect, the attackers, instead of writing 'Jew' on the window, wrote 'Artist' on the window," poet Jack Hirschman, who spoke at the rally, tells me. "The attack was really something out of the Brown Shirts."
Hirschman says more than 100 people attended.
"This is all too scary for me," Haigh, who was at the rally, told the San Francisco Chronicle. But the paper said she was "visibly moved by the show of support" and is "weighing her options."
(I could reach neither Haigh nor Colwell for comment. I called the phone number of the gallery and got only this message: "Thank you for calling the Capobianco Gallery. Please leave a message after the tone.")
Here is Hirschman's poem he read at the rally. I'm reprinting it here with his permission:
Has called out
Turns to dust.
Because the freedom
Is why no violence can
"The enemy cannot be triumphant in this kind of situation," Hirschman says. "The gallery has to open again."
Copyright 2004 The Progressive