Dana Chandler’s Art is Part of America’s History

[Above: “SaKKKrificial Dance,” 8×12 ft, Acrylic on Masonite, Dana C. Chandler, Jr., 1980. This work is part of the artist’s “Return of the ReconstruKKKtion Series,” which depicts America’s post-reconstruction history of vile racial horrors perpetrated by white supremacists on black lives and bodies. This seminal piece, inspired by Henri Matisse’s 1907 classic, “Le Danse,” is painted using Matisse’s freehand style. While Matisse’s work portrays happy festivities, Chandler’s painting depicts racist American terrorists engaged in celebratory dances around lynched black bodies that were burning in post-murder funeral pyres. It also illustrates the sexual objectification of white women, the protection of whose virtue white men used, like their bodies, to justify lynchings of black men and boys like Emmitt Till.]


Professor Dana Chandler is among the most influential African-American protest artists of the second half of the 20th century. But, a strong argument also can be made that his art is as much a part of American history as it is art history and black history. 

Chandler called the “Prolific Professor,” has created several hundred works of protest art since the early 1960s. Most pieces accurately reflect either broad themes or single events in America’s racial history. In fact, in some cases, where news accounts and historical memories have been lost or faded, Chandler’s art takes their place. One example is “Fred Hampton’s Door II,” which continues to generate interest and inclusion in exhibitions like one at Tate Modern Museum in London. Chandler’s art plays the same critical role in the black experience as the African Griot’s role as a storyteller has in African villages. That’s because most historical accounts of incidents adversely affecting the African American community have not included our versions of those events.William-Brown-Lynching-Burning-During-Omaha-Riots-1919

“We still don’t control our narrative, says Chandler. “And, part of my desire was to control our narrative through my art,” he continues.  It was actual domestic terrorism events committed against black men by white men in American history that inspired Professor Chandler to create “Sakkkificial Dance.”

Lynchings were a frequent occurrence in America where thousands took place and the victims, though primarily black men, included black women and children.

These lynchings were public events, including the lynchings of Sam Hose (which was said to be far more grotesque than any ISIS is accused of committing), Jesse Washington (in May 1890 in Waco, TX) and Will Brown during the Omaha Race Riots of 1919 (shown right). In fact, postcards and news publicity for upcoming lynchings were widely used to draw crowds.

They would attend these events as a family. There, with their children present and encouraged to participate, they had picnics and celebrated the torture, death, and mutilation of African American victims. The murderers accused those men and women of crimes that would not have earned whites the death penalty.

These lynchings were domestic terrorism since they were tools for creating fear of white people among blacks who got subjected to constant violent intimidation. This terrorist activity forced black people to remain virtually enslaved and oppressed by whites who were fearful and angry about blacks being legally free citizens.

Chandler says he was making three statements through his art, particularly of the 1960s-1980s. “The first was about the holocaust that is transpiring against black people, mainly, against black men,” he explains.”

“The second,” he continues, “was about the protagonists in this story of black genocide being the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists including those on American police forces.” Today’s lynchings says Chandler, are committed with firearms and incarceration.

“The third was about sexism, which is why you have white women dancing around [the burning corpse] naked. White men in those types of organizations think of their women as sex objects and property. They certainly don’t see them as equals,” Chandler says. “Their job was just to stay home, half-naked, making babies. They didn’t want the woman to be highly involved, except in the collaborative sense, and by making babies and worshipping their men.”

Chandler, who doesn’t claim to be a scholar but an activist artist who is an observer of human history and experience, asserts that this is still true today. “Nothing has changed, and the economic situation for women is proof of that,” he states. “There’s a power vacuum, and the glass ceiling remains intact.”

Moreover, in the case of black women, in addition to economic oppression, Chandler, now a devout Christian, has long believed that abortion is a tool of genocide. “Black women have long been either encouraged or forced to have abortions,” Chandler asserts. 

Chandler points to Planned Parenthood founder, Margaret Sanger’s, own stated intent to use “family planning” as a method of controlling the births of those of the inferior classes, the fertility of the feeble-minded, the mentally defective, the poverty-stricken classes.” That has been interpreted to include African Americans, who were considered to be among those “inferior classes” and were most likely to be poverty stricken.

Others had argued that, because Sanger worked with the NAACP and W.E.B. DuBois on her efforts during the “Negro Movement,” her activities were related to the desire of some in the black community that black women be able to determine when they had children. But, today, black women are five times more likely than white women to have an abortion.

Chandler believes that the number of deaths by abortion is evidence that surgical procedure was not given by Sanger to African American women as merely a method of birth control but is a tool of genocide. He points out that “abortions have reduced the black population significantly.”

That belief is consistent with his views on the history of black genocide within a white supremacist system rather than assent to the ideology of any anti-abortion lobby. Chandler firmly believes all women should have agency over their bodies and lives, including as it relates to reproduction.

But, his assertions don’t represent support of the mostly white, conservative, pro-life movement because he’s certain that those people are not concerned about black lives in any context. He only insists that all women understand how the systems of oppression conspire to control their bodies and choices, including the reproductive industry.

dirty-do-ragFurther, Chandler says of his historical work’s connection to today, “I was about “black lives matter” long before there was “Black Lives Matter.” The precursor to today’s movement was the “Black Power” movement. Chandler’s ties to that movement are not just evident in his activism of the time.

They also are shown in his black revolutionary pieces like “Fred Hampton’s Door,” which relates to the brutal government conspiracy to assassinate Black Panther leaders, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. (The Tate Modern in London is exhibiting “Fred Hampton’s Door II” in a major exhibition of black power art of that era.)

Another such piece is “Dirty Do Rag” (left). Pieces like these encourage black people to defend themselves against murderous white supremacists (like those shown in the lynching of Will Brown above) and against racist police assassins.

When he created these paintings, “Black people were not expected to defend themselves. Part of the reason of the KKK was so successful in slaughtering black people was that black men were such an easy target,” the artist asserts.

Of the connection of “Dirty Do Rag” to today, Chandler says nothing has changed. Rabid racist whites are still hell bent on genocide against black people as proved by recent acts of murder against blacks by police and vigilantes.

This violent hostility against African Americans remained on open display when black protesters were attending Donald Trump and other white separatist rallies during his presidential campaign. White supremacists continue to attempt to invade black communities as well. 

Some argue that this work encourages black violence against police officers and the government. But, says the artist, “African Americans should have the same right to defend themselves against racist brutes as white people are given to protect themselves against each other, particularly in open carry states.”

That the right to bear arms and defend themselves from police is upheld for white men and that was evident in the armed Oregon Occupation in early 2016. Those white occupiers warned police of the armed invasion during which they directly threatened law enforcement and were not killed immediately. In fact, the occupation lasted 41 days before authorities ended the standoff.

However, when a 23-year-old black woman allegedly threatened police during a short supposed confrontation, she was killed immediately upon police kicking down her door. She had promised to protect herself from them after months of harassment, and while the white male occupiers in Oregon didn’t lose their lives instantly for doing so, she did. Those officers felt so threatened by her unarmed and fleeing five-year-old son, so they shot him, too.

Moreover, black men like Philando Castile, who was a target of local police harassment for 13 years, also are immediately assassinated for carrying a licensed firearm in an open carry state. That happened despite his saying he had the licensed gun in his possession and had not threatened the police with that firearm. He had not even shown them the weapon.

In fact, while white men kill most police officers, law enforcement claims they are most fearful of unarmed black men, mostly those driving while black. That is why they have killed so many, they say.

As has always been true, while white occupiers like those in Oregon are free to protest government overreach, African Americans pay a high price for doing so, even unarmed. That is true whether the protests consist of peaceful civil disobedience like those of Black Lives Matters and quiet ones like NFL player, Colin Kaepernick’s.

Thus, Chandler’s art is not only supported by historical evidence of the time he painted these images depicting white supremacist violence against black people, but events in recent months also provide context for his art.

In the 1990s, Chandler’s art began to deal more specifically with historicvisions-of-an-africanative-holocaust-dana-c-chandler-jr-artal crimes against women of all races and human holocausts in which white (including American) imperialists participated, like enslavement of African Americans (as well as continuing to depict the lynchings and other murderous genocide campaigns against black people in America).

He created numerous “collage reprographics” using images from history books, newspapers and other sources that showed these horrors. His “KKKrimes Against Womanity” Series dealt specifically with those crimes committed against women during holocausts and genocidal institutions like African enslavement like rape and torture. In this series, the artist also tied the Jewish Holocaust to the history of world holocaust that has been ongoing since human history began, causing significant controversy at the time.

In the 2000s, he continued the collage reprographics series addressing the historical sexual objectification and ongoing contemporary exploitation of black women as evidenced in rap culture and men’s magazines. He uses images from men’s magazines and other sources and superimposes them over historical pictures of African women, naked, chained and dehumanized, on the auction block for sale to white enslavers. 

He also began creating live installations that depicted the genocidal effects American materialism and both foreign and domestic imperialism. Chandler calls America, “The largest merchant nation” in the West, with  The installations consist of living area vignettes packed from floor to ceiling with an abundance of material possessions than might be found in a typical American home.

The installations force visitors to these four-dimensional exhibitions to reflect on the carnage caused to Native Bedroom InstallationAmericans to steal their land. Visitors to the exhibitions also must consider the reality that American corporatists export American jobs to countries predominated by people of color to exploit their labor for the production of goods for American consumers. Included in those live installations is Chandler’s other art, liked small, framed versions of his collage reprographics sitting on table tops and other surfaces common in American homes.

The message that the exhibitions convey is that American comfort through materialism frequently comes at great cost to people of color in other parts of the world. 

Thus, Chandler’s art is indeed part of America’s history in the way it reflects this country’s history from the perspective of the artist. It is not a “white washed,” conqueror’s revisionist version of history written from their perspective that Chandler portrays. Instead, it is the historical perspective of a black artist who also is a member of one of the most oppressed groups around the globe. It continues to be relevant today as another generation either perpetuate or experiences the effects of white imperialism, white supremacy, misogyny, and racism.

Moreover, America also continues to be the largest merchant nation in the West, with much evidence showing that this country is exploiting child and slave labor to produce American products. Finally, women globally continue to face gender discrimination and violence, including in the United States which is being exposed as the rape culture it has long been. Chandler’s art depicts all of these social and historical realities.

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