Black History 365: Dread Scott
We are highlighting examples of Black excellence throughout the year! Feel free to send us suggestions!
Dread Scott is a visual artist whose works is exhibited across the US and internationally. In 1989, his art became the center of national controversy over its transgressive use of the American flag, while he was a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. President G.H.W. Bush called his art “disgraceful” and the entire US Senate denounced and outlawed this work. Dread became part of a landmark Supreme Court case when he and others defied the federal law outlawing his art by burning flags on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. He has presented at TED talk on this.
His work has been included in exhibitions at MoMA PS1, the Walker Art Center, Cristin Tierney Gallery, and Gallery MOMO in Cape Town, South Africa, and is in the collection of the Whitney Museum and the Brooklyn Museum. He is a 2021 John Simon Guggenheim Fellow and has also received fellowships from Open Society Foundations and United States Artists as well as a Creative Capital grant.
In 2019 he presented Slave Rebellion Reenactment, a community-engaged project that reenacted the largest rebellion of enslaved people in US history. The project was featured in Vanity Fair, The New York Times, Christiane Amanpour on CNN and highlighted by artnet.com as one of the most important artworks of the decade.
I make revolutionary art to propel history forward. I look towards an era without exploitation or oppression. I don’t accept the political structures, economic foundation, social relations and governing ideas of America. This perspective has empowered me to make artworks that view leaders of slave revolts as heroes, challenge American patriotism as a unifying value, burn the US Constitution (an outmoded impediment to freedom), and position the police as successors to lynch mob terror.
In 1989, my artwork What is the Proper Way to Display a US Flag?, a conceptual artwork for audience participation, became the subject of national conversation over its transgressive use of the American flag. President G.H.W Bush called it “disgraceful” and the Senate denounced and outlawed it. This public conversation confirmed my belief that art, including fine art, could be part of changing the world.
I work in a range of media: performance, installation, video, photography, printmaking and painting. Two threads that connect them are: an engagement with significant social questions and a desire to push formal and conceptual boundaries as part of contributing to artistic development. My projects are presented in venues ranging from museum galleries to street corners. I bring contemporary art to a broad public and the audience is often an active element of the art.
Dread Scott: Decision is a performance that reflects on America, a country whose democracy is rooted in slavery. These roots are woven into the fabric of the country and its founding documents. During the performance I read from the text of 1857 Supreme Court Dred Scott Decision while a group of 4 nude Black performers was guarded and controlled two live German Shepherd dogs, which dogs barked continually. The audience was part of the work and had to pass through the men to go into a “voting booth” one at a time and respond to a moral question. Money to Burn is a performance that was enacted on Wall Street in 2010. Starting with $250, I burned singles, fives, tens and twenties, one bill at a time, while encouraging others to join me with their own money. The transgressive act of burning my own money alluded to the absurdity of a system that treats life necessities as commodities and is based on profit—it’s crazy to burn money but it is the height of rationality to have a market where billions can vanish.