Artist: Association of Artists for Change
Date of Action: August 2021
Region: North America
Location: Winthrop University, South Carolina, United States of America
Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion
Confronting Bodies: Winthrop University
Description of Artwork: Samantha Valdez, a student at Winthrop University in South Carolina, contributed to and acted as a spokesperson for an art instillation outside Tillman Hall. The instillation was intended to draw attention to the vehemently racist history of Benjamin Tillman, after whom Tillman Hall is named. Nicknamed "Pitchfork Ben," Benjamin Tillman was the governor of South Carolina from 1890 to 1894 and actively supported lynch mobs and violent racially charged action. Valdez along with the Association of Artists for Change hung a series of figure shaped, mud-filled nylon stockings on the trees outside Tillman Hall. The protest artwork was intended to "eliminate the ability to forget the eighteen men who were lynched during Benjamin Tillman's years in office" and create an "aesthetic dialogue" regarding racist legacy of the building's namesake.
The Incident: Valdez and the Association of Artists for Change's artistic depiction of lynching was extremely controversial within the sphere of the university. Because of the provocative and potentially disturbing implications of the artistic content, the university immediately removed the installation and is threatening Samantha Valdez with suspension or expulsion from Winthrop on account of "behavior that disturbs the public order and peace" and "disorderly conduct." Some members of the campus' community misinterpreted the work, calling it racist and offensive, but the university's refusal to foster conversation surrounding the meaning and intention of the work prevents the free speech of individuals who wish to publicly voice their opinions on significant issues on campus.
Results of Incident: After joint action from The National Coalition Against Censorship and Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Winthrop no longer threatens to suspend or expel Valdez and the Association of Artists for Change for their anti-lynching art installation. The university has decided that Samantha Valdez must complete 32 hours of community service and must work with campus administrators to host a panel to discuss the installation, campus civility and the First Amendment.