Sam Durant has spent his professional life making art that seeks to empathize with others. He makes art that engages the problematic narratives of American social history. Nevertheless his attempt to address “the difficult histories of the racial dimension of the criminal justice system in the United States” was not successful in May 2017 when the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota attempted to install Scaffold (2012) as part of their sculpture garden.2 2 - Sam Durant, “Artist Statement Regarding Scaffold at the Walker Art Center.” Artist Website, May 29, 2017, www.samdurant.com. Accessed September 26, 2018. One of the seven historic gallows that the artist reproduced for this piece was the one built to execute thirty-eight Sioux people on December 26, 1862 in the largest mass execution in U.S. history. Durant’s intention to “create a learning space for people like me, white people”3 3 - Ibid. was noble enough, but the work of art instead caused profound offence to the native Dakota people who failed to see or understand the redemptive possibilities in having the site of a traumatic cultural injustice become leisure space.
This article also appears in the issue 95 - EmpathyDiscover