KKK Art Piece Leads To Death Threats For University Of Miami Professor

A University of Miami associate professor who fabricated Ku Klux Klan hoods out of the American flag in an artwork is now receiving death threats.

Billie Grace Lynn’s piece, “American Mask,” makes the controversial switch to argue that Americans are using patriotism to hide their racism and bigotry, she told Newsweek.

“I saw the American flag being carried with the Confederate battle flag and the Nazi flag by these really young people wearing polo shirts and khaki pants,” she said, referring to the march in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this year to defend a Confederate statue. “I was outraged that our flag was being carried next to these two other flags.”

Lynn created an earlier version of the piece in 2006 in response to the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal but made a new one after Charlottesville. It has been featured in an off-campus exhibit, which prompted an outpouring of threats from online trolls.

"Sorry, but one Billie Grace Lynn needs to find a new job and be FIRED from the U of Miami (FL). Absolutely ZERO," posted Twitter user Terry Swift, in one of the few social media posts that could be printed in a family newspaper.

Others wished Lynn an early death from painful cancer. But Lynn isn't backing down, saying it is her duty as an artist to create controversial works that probe painful topics.

“I got no joy or pleasure from it at all,” she said. “This is what I am seeing, and I’m responding as an artist. This is the only means I have.”

The university police have been notified of the threats. In response to the controversy, university officials reaffirmed their support of artistic expression and freedom of speech in a statement.

“Art exhibits that provoke reaction and conversation are not new, nor the unique province of the University of Miami,” university officials said in a statement. “It would be our hope that those conversations can happen in ways that are respectful of all points of view.”

The university said it does not typically review art pieces or approve them in advance of exhibits.

The reaction to her piece, Lynn said, didn’t surprise her after growing up in Louisiana around people who were “very patriotic” but expressed “racist views at the same time.”

“I don’t know what patriots these people believe they are,” she said. “If you don’t have freedom of expression then we have lost our county.”

Lynn is not one to shy away from controversy. But her political works have not made it easy for her to get showings, she said.

Her past works also involved the American flag. Lynn has another piece titled “Bloody flag/oil flag,” which showcases a U.S. flag with a blood-like liquid spilling from its stripes.

“I was trying to get at how much blood has been spilled for oil,” she said.

Lynn’s latest flag piece has been on display at the university’s Wynwood gallery since Oct. 23 and it will be on display until Saturday.

She said that she has received responses from veterans who have said that while they can’t stand her piece, they fought so she could express her speech through art.

“Art is an excuse for a conversation,” she said. “America is supposed to stand for freedom and justice for all, and I don’t see it happening.”

It's certainly not the first time that an artist has been under fire for using the American flag in a controversial manner. President George H.W. Bush called a Chicago art student's work "disgraceful" in 1989 when the student, Dread Scott, unveiled his "What Is the Proper Way to Display a US Flag?" piece inviting exhibit visitors to walk on the flag. 

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