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A painting of Emmett Till’s body has become the center of a heated debate

A white woman’s painting of Emmett Till’s mangled body has become the center of a heated debate

A photograph of the mangled body of Emmett Till, a black teenager beaten and shot by two white Mississippians in 1955, is one of the most charged images in U.S. history. And now a painting inspired by the photo has become the center of a heated art world debate.

Parker Bright, 24, is one of the artists involved in the controversy. For two days, Bright wore a T-shirt that read “Black Death Spectacle” and stood in front of the painting of Till at the Whitney Biennial. Entitled “Open Casket,” the painting is by white artist Dana Schutz.

The original photo of Till’s horrifically battered face was taken after his mother decided on an open-casket funeral in order to show what his murderers had done to her son. Parker and other critics, most notably artist Hannah Black, believe that Schutz has erased that history and tried to make the image her own. Black even wrote to the Whitney demanding that the painting be destroyed.

Jay Caspian Kang sat down with Bright to discuss whether he was starting a conversation about representation in art, or censoring Schutz.

This segment originally aired March 28, 2017, on VICE News Tonight on HBO. 

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