Monday, May 29, 2017

"Scaffold" Artist Statement, Sam Durant

Artist Statement, Sam Durant, 5/27/2017

Let me begin by describing the sculpture that has become the focus of
protest in recent days as I envisioned it when it was first exhibited in
2012 in Europe. Scaffold opens the difficult histories of the racial
dimension of the criminal justice system in the United States, ranging
from lynchings to mass incarceration to capital punishment. In bringing
these troubled and complex histories of national importance to the fore,
it was my intention not to cause pain or suffering, but to speak against
the continued marginalization of these stories and peoples, and to build
awareness around their significance.

Scaffold seeks to address the contemporary relevance and resonance of
these narratives today, especially at a time of continued institutionalized
racism, and the ongoing dehumanization and intimidation of people of
color. Scaffold is neither memorial nor monument, and stands against
prevailing ideas and normative history. It warns against forgetting the
past. In doing so, my hope for Scaffold is to offer a platform for open
dialogue and exchange, a place to question not only our past, but the
future we form together.

I made Scaffold as a learning space for people like me, white people who
have not suffered the effects of a white supremacist society and who
may not consciously know that it exists. It has been my belief that white
artists need to address issues of white supremacy and its institutional
manifestations. Whites created the concept of race and have used it to
maintain dominance for centuries, whites must be involved in its
dismantling. However, your protests have shown me that I made a grave
miscalculation in how my work can be received by those in a particular

In focusing on my position as a white artist making work
for that audience I failed to understand what the inclusion of the Dakota
38 in the sculpture could mean for Dakota people. I offer my deepest
apologies for my thoughtlessness. I should have reached out to the
Dakota community the moment I knew that the sculpture would be
exhibited at the Walker Art Center in proximity to Mankato.
My work was created with the idea of creating a zone of discomfort for
whites, your protests have now created a zone of discomfort for me. In
my attempt to raise awareness I have learned something profound and I
thank you for that. Can this be a learning experience for all of us, the
Walker, other institutions and artists and larger society? I am open and
ready to work together with you.