Five years ago Alvaro Alvillar had the nerve to publicly have an opinion as a conservative, with the additional effrontery of being a conservative artist. This is simply not tolerated by any stretch of the imagination in New America, where the motto is “Liberty—except for you,” with the poster’s arrow clearly pointing to the right.
Alvillar was invited in 2007 to display work with a group of other artists in Atlanta’s City Hall East at his own expense. He is known for often incorporating patriotic themes into his paintings in a stylized, pop-art, look of brilliant, hard edged, color fields. Alvillar is hardly a single-subject artist, though. He presents work on love, death, violence, gangs, drugs and realities of contemporary urban life, especially the Los Angeles of his childhood.
Alvillar hadn’t yet encountered much criticism when the show opened in March 2007, at least no one was shrieking for a lawyer. His contribution to the effort was a massive, 7×14-foot background of 33 screen-printed American flags and two somewhat hidden messages: “Politically it’s OK to hate the white man,” and, “Is it OK for me to hate if I’ve been a victim?” The operative word here is “hidden,” as in obscure and somewhat hard to see.
The provocative nature of Alvillar’s statement was deliberate and was the essential point the artist was making. However, even rhetorically posing such a question stands in opposition to politically correct views, as most artists, federal employees and virtually all academics well know. Furthermore it is not on the list of trusty slogans for artists guaranteed to keep you out trouble and bring federal grants. What was he thinking?
Retribution was swift and heated, as Alvillar’s painting “Formula For Hatred” was branded racist itself by various talking heads for merely bringing up racism (irony is always wasted on liberals). It gets “curiouser and curiouser,” as Alice said—in Wonderland, not Atlanta. Controversy seethed locally and spilled into the national scene when several of Atlanta’s finest filed an official complaint over a piece of artwork and asked that it be removed from their sight.
The art community generally expressed support for Alvillar, which was a relief for him and kept the piece up for the duration while they argued at City Hall.
Curator Freddie Sykes, who is black himself, defended the work: “I thought it was an attractive piece. If I had thought it was offensive, I would not have agreed to show it.”
He related that his only fears of censorship previously were over a few nude sketches and never dreamed such an uproar would occur over Alvillar’s statements.
Alvillar, who is Hispanic himself admits that he simply wanted to provoke thought with the item: “It’s made to make you think politically … is it OK to hate the white man—whatever your skin color is?”
Alvillar had hoped the work would promote conversations about racial tensions for the better, which he thinks is one of the more contentious issues of modern life.\
The media rushed to the side of freedom of expression—no … wait … sorry, I was hallucinating. The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s title gives you a sense of their fairness and impartiality: “City Displays Racially Charged Art.”
Facing damage control and trying to explain his motives, Alvillar stated, “I play with mixed messages … an interest in the contrary, i.e. saying one thing and meaning another.”