Open Casket and the Art World: A Cautionary Tale

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In 2017, the artist Dana Schutz presented her painting, Open Casket, at the Whitney Biennial. Both the painting and the painter were subsequently subjected to criticism from the art world. A central critique was that Schutz usurped the story of Emmett Till (the subject of Open Casket) and that, as a white woman, she had no right to do so. Much can-and has-been said on the appropriateness of Schutz's painting. In this article, I argue that Open Casket is a site of oppression, an object that both reflects and reinforces dominant racial hierarchies. Specifically, I argue that Open Casket is a case of what Linda Alcoff calls "the problem of speaking for others": when a member of a privileged social group speaks on the social experiences of an oppressed group, effectively silencing that group. I explore the moral and epistemic implications of Open Casket and related works and provide some reasons to think that socially privileged persons should not depict the experiences of socially oppressed persons-at least in many cases. I conclude by presenting some conditions under which it may be appropriate for privileged artists to speak for oppressed groups.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)27-42
Number of pages16
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 24 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Philosophy


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