Open Casket is a painting from 2016 by the artist Dana Schutz. It portrays the battered body of 14-year old Emmet Till who was beaten to death in 1955 after being falsely accused of whistling at a white woman. When the painting was exhibited at the Whitney Biennial exhibition in 2017 in New York it provoked a lot of controversy.
Many people think that the painting is an exploitation of black suffering for profit by an white artist, so should the artwork not have been exhibited?
Dana Schutz’s claims that the painting is about the perspective of being a mother and loosing your child in a brutal murder. It was also a response to the lack of media coverage of gun violence on young black men. She also says that she didnt want to make any profit by painting black suffering, but she want’s to raise awareness.
On the other hand, some people think the painting is offensive in the way it treats the topic.
It has recived critisism for being way to abstract and taking away Emmetts facial features. This stands in contrasts to the open cascet funeral the mother held, to show people the brutal lynching that happened to her son. Essentely Schultz “closed” the cascet because her brush strokes are too harsh and unclear.
People also argue that Schultz could not be affected emotionaly by this event because she does not belong to the reight group. Schultz is a white woman and should not have any saying on this topic because her children wont be killed due to their race.
One could argue that applying this logic to other conflicts would be imposible. For instance Muslim media wouldn’t be allowed to cover the death of Christians, black people would not be allowed to comment on the Holocaust, only Palestinians could speak about Israeli attacks, etc.
In the end we could say that people have strong opinions about this artpiece. It defenitley touches on a very sensetive topic for many. But Emmet Till’s image belongs to the world and not any spesific group.