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University Of Miami Art Professor Raises Controversy With American Flags Shaped Into KKK Hoods

Odalis Garcia
Lynn's work is on display at the University of Miami gallery in Wynwood.

This is not the first time that sculptor and University of Miami Associate Professor Billie Grace Lynn exhibits her piece "American Mask," but that certainly didn't prevent it from creating a backlash in social media. 

“I actually made the piece several years ago and showed it a long time ago and no one really said anything about it,” said Lynn.

The piece -currently on exhibit at the University of Miami Gallery in Wynwood-  consists of three American flags made to look like Ku Klux Klan hoods. They are held up by flagpoles on cartwheels shaped like swastikas. The eyes of the masks have been opened through cutting and burning.

While it just started with people leaving hateful comments via social media, most of the Art Department faculty and staff have been receiving hate e-mails and phone calls, according to Gallery Director Milly Cardoso.

Cardoso said that the university is taking every safety precaution necessary, although she hopes that all the chaos will subside once the exhibition is over next Sunday.

Matti Marshak, a director at marketing company Pacific 54 whose office space is in the same building as the UM gallery, was initially shocked by it. “[The installation is] inappropriate. But I think I can understand the point of view of what I think the artist is trying to convey,” he said.

Lynn, who grew up in Louisiana, said that much of her inspiration for the piece came from being from a community with intense Klan presence. “I was raised in that kind of terrible racism. I'm very embarrassed that I was taught to think those things and to have [them] in my mind.”

The events in Charlottesville struck a chord in the artist’s mind, pushing her to put this piece on view once more.

“They had the American flag being carried next to the Nazi flag, and the Confederate battle flag and I couldn't believe that. It struck me that people had been hiding for a long time now, their racism behind patriotism,” said Lynn. 

For her, it isn’t the flag itself that should be held up as honorable, but the values it represents.

“I was taught to respect the flag. I found it really painful to cut the flags and burn them. And I'm sure that the football players who are taking the knee find it very painful to do this but the flag is not sacred. It's fabric,” Lynn said.