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Gallery attacked for showing antiwar artwork

by artist Monday, May. 31, 2004 at 5:38 AM

"SF gallery owner becomes target after showcasing painting of Iraqi prisoner abuse." Photo shows the painting that enraged the rightwing war mongers. The following article appeared in the SFGate.com

Gallery attacked for...
guy_colwell.jpg, image/jpeg, 576x396

After displaying a painting of U.S. soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners, a San Francisco gallery owner bears a painful reminder of the nation's unresolved anguish over the incidents at Abu Ghraib -- a black eye and bloodied brow delivered by an unknown assailant who apparently objected to the art work.

The assault outside the Capobianco gallery in the city's North Beach district Thursday night was the worst, but only the latest in a string of verbal and physical attacks that have been directed at owner Lori Haigh since the painting, titled "Abuse," was installed there on May 16.

Last Wednesday, concerned for the safety of her two children, ages 14 and 4, who often accompanied her to work, Haigh decided to close the gallery indefinitely.

Painted by Berkeley artist Guy Colwell, "Abuse," the painting at the center of the controversy, depicts three U.S. soldiers leering at a group of naked men in hoods with wires connected to their bodies. The one in the foreground has a blood-spattered American flag patch on his uniform. In the background, a soldier in sunglasses guards a blindfolded woman.

The painting was part of a larger show of Colwell's work that mostly featured pastel-colored abstracts.

Two days after the painting went up in a front window, someone threw eggs and dumped trash on the doorstep. Haigh said she didn't think to connect it to the black-and-white interpretation of the events at Baghdad's notorious prison until people started leaving nasty messages and threats on her business answering machine.

"I think you need to get your gallery out of this neighborhood before you get hurt," one caller said.

Even after she removed the painting from the window, the criticism continued thanks to news coverage about the gallery's troubles. The answering machine recorded new calls from people accusing her of being a coward for taking the picture down. Last weekend, a man walked into the gallery, pretended to scrutinize the art work for a moment, then marched up to Haigh's desk and spat directly in her face.

On Thursday, someone knocked on the door of the gallery, then punched Haigh in the face when she stepped outside.

"This isn't art-politics central here at all," Haigh said. "I'm not here to make a stand. I never set out to be a crusader or a political activist."

In closing the gallery, Haigh was forced to cancel an upcoming show featuring counterculture artist Winston Smith. She covered the windows of the gallery with old newspapers from Sept. 11, 2003 that included stories about the war, a statement she insists was coincidental.

For Haigh, who opened Capobianco a year-and-a-half ago, having the chance to work with prominent artists fulfilled a lifelong dream.

"I kept thinking someday I'll have enough of a reputation where I could bring in my heroes of the art world, people like Guy Colwell especially," she said.

The irony of the attacks hasn't been lost on Haigh. Among the expressions of support she's received since shuttering the gallery, her favorite is an e-mail whose writer said, "I'm sure that a few and dangerous minds don't understand that they have only mimicked the same perversity this painting had expressed."

The abuse also has soured her on North Beach, the Italian-American neighborhood that spawned the Beat Generation. Long considered a bastion of free speech, it is also home to many old-time San Franciscans. Haigh believes "it is the locals" who first took aim at her gallery since it's on a mostly residential street and she hadn't advertised Cowell's show when the threats started.

But others in the neighborhood have gone out of their way to offer encouragement and sympathy, among them poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, owner of the famed City Lights bookstore. Outside the gallery on Friday, someone had left a bouquet of flowers along with a note reading, "The woman who ran this gallery is a brave and honorable woman. ... She is a true American and a real patriot."

San Francisco police are investigating the incidents and have stepped up patrols around the gallery while Haigh finishes closing up shop.

Colwell stopped by on Friday and refused to discuss his work or the reaction to it, saying only, "I'm sorry if this is putting pressure on Lori."

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LATEST COMMENTS ABOUT THIS ARTICLE
Listed below are the 10 latest comments of 14 posted about this article.
These comments are anonymously submitted by the website visitors.
TITLE AUTHOR DATE
If it quacks like a duck dada Monday, May. 31, 2004 at 9:56 AM
It's "art," BA Derrick Samson Monday, May. 31, 2004 at 12:35 PM
Fascists hate Art picasso Monday, May. 31, 2004 at 4:42 PM
Bush admirer is a Fascist bush zoo Monday, May. 31, 2004 at 11:45 PM
OneEyedMan KPC Thursday, Jun. 03, 2004 at 11:50 AM
art doesn't exist in a vacuum--even trash art peepdog Thursday, Jun. 03, 2004 at 12:45 PM
It is trash art Real American Thursday, Jun. 03, 2004 at 3:05 PM
OneEyedMan KPC Thursday, Jun. 03, 2004 at 3:29 PM
Oh, I forgot. peepdog Thursday, Jun. 03, 2004 at 6:38 PM
OneEyedMan KPC Friday, Jun. 04, 2004 at 8:27 AM
KPC peepdog Monday, Jun. 14, 2004 at 3:15 PM

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