When George Floyd was murdered on May 25, protests swept the United States. The country was forced to reckon with its history of systemic racism and oppression. These issues are not new to America. They’ve been interrogated countless times, including, famously, by alum Dread Scott (BFA 1989) at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC).
Scott is a visual artist dedicated to making revolutionary art that challenges the political structures, economic foundation, social relations, and governing ideas of America. In 1989, he created American Newspeak…Please Feel Free, a series of installations that asked onlookers to respond to political statements about war, racial injustice, patriotism, and more. While on display at SAIC, one of these installations sparked a national outrage.
What is the Proper Way to Display a US Flag? invited audiences to record written responses to the work’s titular question—while standing on one. The polarizing piece became the subject of daily protests. President George H. W. Bush called it “disgraceful.” Opposition to the piece escalated to the US Senate, which voted 97-0 to outlaw displaying the flag on the ground.
However, while some opposed the artwork, many SAIC students stood in solidarity of Scott’s right to freedom of expression. In the photo above, students can be seen counter-protesting with simple, expressive signs: “Angry.” “Innocent.” “Love.” Now, more than 20 years later, a new generation of artists, designers, and scholars joins together in the ongoing movement for racial equity.