By: Robert Linggi
If you checked your Sac Link email over the weekend then you saw the campus-wide letter from Sacramento State President Alexander Gonzalez announcing a full investigation into an art project where two white male students with rope nooses around their necks were “suspended” in harnesses, as if they were being lynched from a tree, as part of an art display in front of Brighton Hall on Dec. 4.
The display only lasted a short time, but caused puzzled social media posts and apparently offend some people, according to Gonzalez.
“…it appears that the individuals involved did not intend for the display to incite violence, though it offended members of our community,” Gonzalez wrote. “The University did not approve the display, and I want to assure everyone that I am working to address the multiple issues raised by this incident.”
However the display’s artist, Sac State senior Christina Edwards, responded to Gonzalez today in a statement where she explained the display wasn’t supposed to be offensive, but instead meant to bring awareness to social injustices and inequality.
“I choose to express my art in a way that resonates with me, but I did not intend to offend anyone in or outside of the project,” Edwards wrote. “The purpose of this performance was to bring to light social injustices and the issues of inequality that impact me and my community as a whole. As a young African American Woman, I feel that not enough has changed in society in terms of racial and social equality that allows for true equal opportunities.” Edwards went on to say that while her art took place on campus, it did not represent the ideals or opinions of Sac State.
Edwards explained the goal of her art was to record the campus’ response to the tragic African American reality of lynching. She said she used intentional race reversal to highlight an issue in the hope it would promote change and equality.
“It was specifically a white man hanging from a tree,” said one of the volunteer performers, who ask to remain anonymous. ”If you switch the context up it would be provocative in that sense. Which signifies the lack of acknowledgement and recognition of the original context and crime.”
While Gonzalez’s letter said the university didn’t give Edwards permission, both Edwards and the performer said Sac State Facilities Services gave verbal permission for the display. The performer said while the university knew about the performance, they may not have fully understood it. “…when they figured it out they were pretty pissed, so how it’s all going to turn out is still up in the air,” said the performer. “We got negative feedback. We had a faculty member come up and start being kind of mean.”
The performer said the display ended when Sac State faculty, facilities and police asked for it to stop. He said the university employees were patient and tried to figure out what was going on, however they didn’t condone the performance.
In her statement Edwards wrote that she took every safety precaution during the display by using professionals to rig the climbing ropes and harnesses the performers sat in so they were safe and the equipment was visible throughout the performance.
Earlier reports that one of the performers was female and that the participants were standing on the ground were incorrect. According to the performer, there was a female from the university present who assisted, however she was not directly involved with the display.
Despite all the trouble the performer says he doesn’t have any regrets because the display was a strong work.
In ending his letter, Gonzalez asking for respect and sensitivity moving forward. It remains to be seen if the students involved will face any real repercussions for a situation that few people knew occurred before Gonzalez’s letter to campus.