Blind metaphors and burnt crosses

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Post by Colette Copeland

[Editors’ note: This post is a response to Libby’s post on this work.]

A few more thoughts on cross burning and David Stephens’ work:

First, I agree with Libby that it is naïve to believe David Stephens’ symbolic act (the burning of 12 miniature crosses) will reclaim the cross from its current Klan associations. Nor is it likely to create any kind of dialogue amongst the community, except for heightening the incendiary (pun intended) racial tensions present in the city. (However, it certainly provoked a lively discussion among my art-writing students.)

That said, I think Stevens uses his physiological blindness in creating his work to reference cultural blindness or close-mindedness, not just of the Klan, but the community as well. The Braille panels leave the viewer ‘in the dark’ (image above). One of my Penn writing students said the panels resembled closed window blinds. Even the coded key does not make the meaning clear. The words are nonsensical, referencing racial slang.

The Klan symbols also reinforce the notion of cultural blindness. The Klan hood has two empty sockets, where the eyes should be. The viewer is able to see right through the ’emptiness’ of the hood. What disturbed me the most, was to discover that the Klan has such a strong presence in Pennsylvania and New York. When I left Texas as a small child, I thought I left the Klan behind, only to discover that they live in my city, perhaps in my neighborhood. As Libby said, I too am in awe of a blind artist who not only braves the circular saw, but also tackles challenging subject matter without flinching.

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