Segregation art project sparks uproar at SUNY Buffalo

Sep 17, 2015 by

James Mietus –

One outraged student tweeted, “Not only is this a hate crime, but it is also an act of terrorism.”

A student at the University of Buffalo ignited controversy Wednesday for hanging “White Only” and “Black Only” signs on bathrooms and drinking fountains in Clemens Hall that houses offices and classrooms for the College of Arts and Sciences. The signs, which campus police removed after receiving complaints, were posted as an assignment for an art class.

Campus officials initially treated the incident as an “insensitive prank.”

“Not only is this a hate crime, but it is also an act of terrorism.”   

Ashley Powell, a graduate student in fine arts, came forward as the individual behind the project at a meeting of the Black Student Union on September 16. Powell, who is black, hung the signs as a project for her “Installation: Urban Spaces” class, which requires the creation of an art installation in a public space.

Powell explained that her purpose was to “get a reaction out of people.”

UB students reacted immediately and took to social media to express confusion and outrage. One student tweeted, “Not only is this a hate crime, but it is also an act of terrorism.” The tweet received almost 500 favorites and more than 700 retweets.

Over 100 students appeared at the Black Student Union’s weekly meeting later in the day, where Powell admitted to posting the signs. The UB Spectrum reports that some of the participants left the meeting crying.

Micah Oliver, president of the Black Student Union, said the signs evoked, “a past our generation has never seen which I think is why it was so shocking for us to see.” One student called the signs “sickening” and that the project “entices a fear no one should ever experience.”

Powell apologized for hurting people but defended the project as a work of art.

Powell did not clear the project with the university before posting the signs. Posting on campus is limited to designated bulletin boards, and university policy states that “exceptional situations and/or unique material” require special permission from the Office of Student Affairs.

The university said in a press release that it is “continuing to review this matter through appropriate university policies and procedures.”

The Intercultural and Diversity Center will call a meeting Sept. 17 to “allow students to continue the discussion.”

Source: Segregation art project sparks uproar at SUNY Buffalo

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2 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Rich D.

    This “art” project was nothing but a mean and ugly way to tweak whitey’s nose, and with eminently predictable results. The so-called “apology” was arrogant and self-serving. How it was approved (if it was) is beyond me. It deserves nothing but the howls of execration that it is getting.

  2. Avatar
    ronee groff

    An experiential project gone wrong. Why? Because the “artist” did not follow policy and procedures of the institution.
    As an experiential project it was brilliant and did evoke reactions of varying levels of sensitivity. It should have caused an intense discussion on many levels of civility and humanity, respect and disrespect, racism. On the other hand it also brought the consequence of rebuke and anger, along with a challenge to those who would become a social vigilante and instigator. We are a country of laws and hopefully that is what forces and brings order and reasonable change and respect to the masses. The artist neglected to think in terms of civil disobedience when you act beyond the law without taking the proper steps to accomplice the “art project” and so the discussion was sparked.

    That was what the Civil Rights Movement helped to correct and then achieve, forced and caused reasonable correction of wronged action against individual Races. This was an ‘attack’ against the very basic human need at a gut and physical level through signs that restricted the common natural needs and urges that every person must respond to regardless of
    Race or anything else. What would be more shocking is if those signs were never taken down and became the law of the land! Now that is something to consider. Recognize that reasonable people through their own civility and decency eventually stopped and reversed the ‘attack’ the signs represented against any people. Prejudice and hate can never be
    irradicated but believing there are those who have a great understanding of human rights and decency is worth believing in and recognizing too.

    As a project it served to jar the senses and remind people of how fragile we are in the face of injustice and pacmentality but it needed the school to clear it first. For every action there is a reaction and in this case it achieved a lesson for the intended and the “artist” so in that respect I would give it an B+ but with a consequence for civil disobedience.

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