The Avengers Open Your Eyes

Penelope Houston, lead singer for the Avengers, 1978. All dressed up in cellophane and tape with nowhere to go. Photo by James Stark.

Penelope Houston, lead singer for the Avengers, 1978. All dressed up in cellophane and tape with nowhere to go. Photo by James Stark.

Wild-eyed and frantic as she dressed for work early in the morning, my wife Jeannine caught me stumbling out of the bedroom sleepy-eyed, scratching my head and trying to remember a dream. She flung herself at me, grabbed me by my arms, and staring me square in the face, excitedly yelped: “What’s that punk song where the girl sings ‘Open Your Eyes, Open Your Eyes!!” Yup, just another day in my household.

I shook my head of dream shards, and paced a bit as I mumbled under my breath: “open your eyes… open your eyes.” The words were forming out of my drowsiness: “they tell you lies… and… you… sing… along.” I prodded myself, it was too early to play a question game, but, “I know this song, what is it?”

Suddenly it came to me, I felt like a kid getting knocked down by an ocean wave at any one of California’s polluted beaches. “AVENGERS! That’s it!!” The minutiae surrounding the song suddenly filled my head, names, dates, places, histories. Out of convenience I turned to the dreaded abyss of YouTube, typed “Avengers, Open Your Eyes,” and up popped the defiantly rebellious punk rock anthem from 1978.

The work-a-day-world preparations ceased momentarily as my wife and I eagerly listened to the punk rock oldie. Amazingly, that musical cry from the past summed up the problems of the present; it shrieked back against all the malfeasance, crookedness, venality, and depravity of today’s daily news—including contempt for the media itself. This was much more than teenage angst. Listen to the furious song and feel the indignation:

At first I thought you were dead, but now I see you’re one of the rest
they drugged you with muzak and TV sedation, you’re one of the blank generation

(Refrain) Open your eyes, open your eyes, you don’t see what’s going on
come on, open your eyes, open your eyes
you watch TV to find out what’s right and wrong
yeah, open your eyes…well they tell you lies and you sing along
open your eyes, to what you respected
open your eyes, you can reject it

I want to upset you, want to make you think, but you eat all their s**t
it makes your breath stink, gonna get a job, and join a f**king union
that way, you know, nothing’s gonna happen


Like lemmings you run, towards destruction
you can’t see the stream of corruption
oh I see, you’ve been blind
you better make up your mind


Think of this post as a time capsule of sorts. It holds a flyspeck cache of evidence that—once upon a time, art and culture, under the guise of punk rock, mounted a last gasp defense of liberty.

It is genuinely astonishing that the Avenger’s Open Your Eyes, a song of rage from America’s punk outburst of the late 70s, so effectively voices what millions of normal Americans are ruminating over in 2021. “Fake News”? Bah! Phfftt! In ’78 punks were shouting about the corporate media, “they tell you lies and you sing along!”

Granted, punk was an amorphous body of misfits; musicians, artists, writers, photographers, and guttersnipe philosophers. Mostly working class outsiders, we were a different breed of individualist oddballs unable to paint by the numbers. Down through the ages such eccentrics left in their wake inscrutable miscellanea—songs, writings, objects. This is no less so for punk. Social historians, or those who simply wish to nullify conformity and its ugly twin named obedience, should shift through the wreckage punk wrought. There are secrets to be found there.

Children’s protest against toxic waste contamination held in the Love Canal neighborhood, circa 1979. Photographer unknown.

Kids protest toxic waste contamination in the Love Canal neighborhood, circa 1979.

A case in point, Love Canal. That was a suburban community in Niagara Falls, New York. It was a neighborhood with higher than median income, access to schools and shopping areas, in many ways it epitomized the American Dream.

But no one ever told the people who purchased Love Canal homes that the community was built upon a massive toxic chemical dump. Around 200 tons of highly toxic dioxin had been dumped there. By 1975 eighty-two deadly chemicals—11 being carcinogens, leached into the top soil and groundwater to poison the population. High rates of miscarriages and birth defects were reported, and cases of epilepsy, asthma, migraines, and kidney disease soared.

In 1980 you could turn on commercial radio and hear hits like Magic by Olivia Newton-John, Do That to Me One More Time by Captain & Tennille, The Rose by Bette Midler, and Heartache Tonight by the Eagles.

“Flipper, Adolescents, Wasted Youth” 1981 xerox flyer for punk concert at The Vex punk club in East Los Angeles. The top strip shows a child with radiation burns in Hiroshima 1945, a Chinese baby burned in a Japanese bombing run, Aug. 1937, a young Vietnamese girl burned in a napalm attack, 1972. The flyer featured a boy with birth defects from thalidomide toxicity, late 1950s.

“Flipper, Adolescents, Wasted Youth” 1981 xerox flyer for punk concert at The Vex punk club in East Los Angeles. The flyer shows a child with radiation burns in Hiroshima, 1945. A Chinese baby burned in a Japanese bombing run, Aug. 1937. A young Vietnamese girl burned in a napalm attack, 1972. A boy with birth defects from thalidomide, late 1950s.

I was listening to Love Canal in 1980, the first single released by the San Francisco terror noise punk outfit named Flipper. While acceptable pop celebrities were busy racking in the bucks with endless insipid love songs, Flipper was skulking about in underground venues wailing lyrics about the horrors of Love Canal: “We set sailing, drifting down the love canal. We seem strange, our bodies are breaking down.

And so forever shall it be, the elites will bring you distractions and illusions, while the noble artist will alway bring you reality and truth—no matter how disquieting.

Yes, punk music made you squirm and twitch, either from delight or disgust. It delivered its uncomfortable message in a purposely excruciating, frenzied, and discordant way. It was meant as a musical slap to the face (“Open your eyes!”). Punk was always itching to fight, metaphorically speaking of course, but dominant culture gatekeepers thought it too contentious to be given a seat at the table of mainstream culture. Which is why you never heard of the Avengers or Flipper. The multitudes must be “drugged with muzak and TV sedation.”

I saw the Avengers play BACES Hall on April 18th, 1978 with the Flyboys and some neophyte band listed on the flyer only as “guests.” Turned out to be the Go-Go’s, like I said, dabblers. BACES was one of the few venues in LA that allowed punk concerts. The Avengers were a train blazing down the tracks to fly off the rails, their convulsive sound blasting through the sweaty horde of punks. A 1978 film captured a live Avengers performance; it is incorrectly labeled a performance at CBGB’s in New York City. The Avengers existed from 1977 to 1979, and the original band never toured beyond the West Coast. The film likely shows a gig at Geary Temple in San Francisco.

As with everything in Los Angeles, nothing is as it seems. In 1947 the Bulgarian American Cultural Education Society (BACES) was a non-profit corporation that promoted the culture and history of Bulgaria. The group rented a concert hall facility at 1530 N. Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles which they naturally enough named, BACES Hall. The group held classical music recitals, lectures, and readings that integrated Bulgarian traditions into American life. That early history has been entirely lost, in fact BACES Hall was torn down years ago and replaced with, what else, a Mini Mall.

“Avengers, Flyboys, Go-Go’s.” 1978 xerox flyer for punk concert at BACES Hall, Hollywood, California. Collection of Mark Vallen.

“Avengers, Flyboys, Go-Go’s.” 1978 xerox flyer for punk concert at BACES Hall, Hollywood, California. The gig was sponsored by the Masque, LA’s first punk venue. Collection of Mark Vallen.

Way back in 1978 I found out about the Avengers gig at BACES Hall in the same way all the underground weirdos learned of the next riot, err, I mean “concert.” I happened upon a xerox flyer. And so, the last bit of this screed will briefly deal with the other component of the punk aesthetic that always mesmerized me as an artist, the do-it-yourself, primitive, and inexpert xerox flyer.

I have always been fascinated by the simple sketchy images intended to convey unorthodox ideas. The harsh imagery of the German Expressionists and DaDaists of the 1930s invariably got my attention. I was also heedful of the psychedelic graphics from the 1960s, particularly in the way they were distributed via posters and flyers. But the punk aesthetic hit home in a different way.

These were modern black and white images of nihilistic despair, sometimes comical, often cynical, always engaging. Riotous hodgepodges of news photos ripped from magazines and newspapers, combined with hostage letter fonts and juxtaposed with inane advertising images. Pretty near all the flyers were cheap xeroxes, heightening the critique that mass culture was fabricated and counterfeit. I appreciated that most were created by anonymous artists. I created a few myself.

“Avengers X Bop.” 1979 xerox flyer. The original bass player for the Avengers, James Wilsey, designed this severe, bloodcurdling graphic.

“Avengers X Bop.” 1979 xerox flyer. The original bass player for the Avengers, James Wilsey, designed this severe, bloodcurdling graphic.

Some of my favorite punk flyers utilized singular images, some of them hand drawn, crudely or otherwise. They were artfully artless. Of late, social media has made the digital meme the sovereign of humorous if not troublesome graphics. I find some memes amusing, but there’s just something different about a handbill handcrafted by the human hand. Xerographic flyers do not rely on censorious High-Tech Overloads for distribution, and best of all, they can be left anywhere to intervene in daily life.

Perchance this essay will be taken as a crucial gift to seekers of esoteric knowledge and inspiration in dark times. On the other hand, I am tickled to death at the thought of those searching for the Avengers of Marvel Comics superhero fame… finding this essay instead.

Afghanistan Apocalypse

An unidentified artist in Kabul burns her paintings before the Taliban discovers her studio. Photo: Omaid Sharifi 2021

An unidentified artist in Kabul burns her paintings before the Taliban discovers her studio. Photo: Omaid Sharifi 2021

Imagine being an artist in a country that banned art. Furthermore, to save yourself and your family, you had to burn all of your paintings before the theocratic zealots of the unelected “government” could discover them.

“My heart shatters to see and talk to Afghan artists who have started destroying their own art out of fear. Afghanistan is becoming black and white again. It’s losing its beauty, diversity and colors. I am afraid the world will let this happen again!”

So said Omaid Sharifi, Afghan artist, curator, co-founder & president of ArtLords. That Kabul based grassroots organization of artists and volunteers tried to heal their war ravaged nation with “the soft power of art and culture.” The first group in Afghanistan to paint public art murals on the streets was ArtLords… they might be the last, now that the Taliban have seized control.

Sharifi and fellow artists were painting a mural in Kabul on Aug. 15, 2021, when Taliban terrorists began swarming into the city. Ironically, the previous day Sharifi uploaded a video to twitter showing his group working on the new mural, he wrote: “We are painting a mural today-now. It reminded me of the famous scene from Titanic Movie, where musicians play until the ship sinks.” As the Taliban took over Sharifi went underground. Thankfully he and his family escaped, and resettled in a refugee camp in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Afghan artist Omaid Sharifi, painting a mural on the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan with fellow members of ArtLords. Photo: Omaid Sharifi, 2021.

Afghan artist Omaid Sharifi, painting a mural on the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan with fellow members of ArtLords. Photo: Omaid Sharifi, 2021.

In truth this essay is not about artists resisting dystopia. Rather, it is about liberty, human dignity, and the fate of nations. The tale could begin in 1839, when soldiers of the British Empire marched into Kabul to conquer the Emirate of Afghanistan. In 1892 Rudyard Kipling poetically conveyed how well that exploit went:

“When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains, and the women come out to cut up what remains, jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains, an’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.”

However, my telling of inauspicious events actually starts in the late 20th century, when, as a 25-year-old artist living in Los Angeles, I first payed attention to politics in  Afghanistan. It was April 28, 1978, when news reports told of a coup d’état in Kabul. The communist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) had assassinated President Mohammed Daoud Khan and his family at the presidential palace, beginning in essence the conflict still faced today.

In 1978 Afghanistan was unimportant news to most Americans, struggling as we were against recession and gas lines. For those of us not old enough to remember, President Carter gave his infamous “malaise speech” in 1979. The Afghan coup in ’78 led me to study that landlocked nation, its history, culture, and politics, and I have been contemplating that country ever since. In the month of August, 2021, a new entry was placed in the Afghanistan Apocalypse Almanac, it was listed under “Biden Withdrawal.”

I was 21-years-old in April 29, 1975 when the last US helicopter took off from the US Embassy in Saigon, Vietnam. The communists seized the country so quickly it took the US by surprise; a hasty retreat was organized. Be that as it may, just days earlier on April 17, 1975, the genocidal Khmer Rouge marched into Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia—when it comes to fanaticism the Taliban are evocative of the Khmer Rouge. Even after four decades I have been unable to forget the 10,000 or more Vietnamese at US Embassy gates, pleading to be airlifted out of ‘Nam. That reoccurring whirring chopper blade nightmare has now come home to roost in Kabul.

Left: US helicopter evacuates US Embassy as communists capture Saigon, Vietnam, 1975. Right: US helicopter evacuates US Embassy as Taliban capture Kabul, Afghanistan, 2021.

Left: US helicopter evacuates US Embassy as communists capture Saigon, Vietnam, 1975. Right: US helicopter evacuates US Embassy as Taliban capture Kabul, Afghanistan, 2021.

On April 14, 2021, Joe Biden declared he would conduct a “safe, deliberate and responsible” withdrawal of U.S. soldiers in “full coordination with its partners and allies in Afghanistan.” He carelessly stated the withdrawal of 2,500 U.S. troops would be completed on… September 11th.

Of course, that was the date Islamic fanatics from al-Qaeda crashed civilian airliners into the Twin Towers of New York City and the Pentagon in Virginia, killing 2,977 and wounding more than 6,000. Moreover, the Taliban had hosted al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, where the 9/11 plot was hatched. I am certain the Taliban were pleased with the symbolic date, though it roiled Americans. Later in July, Biden quietly and without fanfare, changed the end date of the withdrawal mission to August 31.

I felt in my bones Biden’s withdrawal plan would be disastrous. Once he announced the evacuation, the Taliban rapidly began to seize provinces; they were surrounding the capital of Kabul. On May 8, 2021, the Taliban used three truck bombs to attack the Syed Al-Shahda girls’s school in Kabul. The blasts killed at least 90 and wounded some 100; most victims were teenage girls. The Taliban denied responsibility for the massacre, all while forbidding education to girls and women. The inhuman act was a glimpse into the future of women in today’s Taliban occupied Afghanistan.

I was shocked when US forces completely vacated Bagram Air Base under cover of darkness on July 1, 2021. It was done without informing the new Afghan base commander or the Afghan National Army, and it was ordered by Joe Biden. After the base lights were turned off, hordes of looters swept into the compound to steal everything not nailed down. This was the US evacuation and how it proceeded in “full coordination with its partners and allies in Afghanistan.”

Bagram Air Base should have been used in the withdrawal. It was the largest airfield in Afghanistan with two runways, multiple hangars, 100 parking bays for planes, a 50-bed hospital, and housing for 100,000. It has a defensible perimeter with fences, blast walls, and gun towers. There are no elevated positions nearby allowing enemies to shoot down into the base, nor urban areas to shelter guerilla attackers. One runway at Bagram could have handled incoming and outgoing flights, while the second launched helicopters for search and rescue missions of stranded Americans. Instead Biden chose Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul with its single runway, it has none of the attributes mentioned above.

Because of Biden’s withdrawal, 16,000 US military vets who worked as private contractors, were pulled out of the country. They had provided vital maintenance to aircraft of the Afghan Air Force; suddenly there was no one to keep Afghan planes and helicopters running. With Bagram Air Base closed and maintenance crews evacuated, Biden effectively grounded the Afghan Air Force. The Afghan National Army was also crippled by this; it had been trained by the US to rely on air intelligence and support during combat missions. When troops are pinned down with heavy fire or outnumbered by enemies, air-strikes are called in. But what happens when there are no planes?

On July 8, 2021, President Biden told the press: “The Taliban is not the North Vietnamese Army, they’re not… they’re not remotely comparable in terms of capability. There’s going to be no circumstance for you to see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy of the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable.” He went on to say: “The likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.” When a reporter asked, “Is a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan now inevitable?” Biden replied, “No, it is not.”

Late 2020 in Herat Province Afghanistan, a girl accused of “immoral relations” for talking to a man on the phone, receives 40 lashes from the Taliban.

Late 2020 in Herat Province Afghanistan, a girl accused of “immoral relations” for talking to a man on the phone, receives 40 lashes from the Taliban.

The Taliban are certainly not the former North Vietnamese Army, they are Sunni fanatics who fight to impose sharia law on humanity.

Their base is the majority ethnic population of Afghanistan, the Pashtun. In the Pashto language Talib means “student” (plural, “Taliban”), one who studies Islamic fundamentalism in a Sunni religious school (madrassah). When they first ruled from 1996 to 2001, they banned western dress, music, art, and rights for women as “un-Islamic.” Violators of sharia law were shot, beheaded, or stoned to death in brutal public executions.

When overthrown in 2001, their cruelty continued in provinces they controlled. Now they are back in power, and there is no reason to believe they will be any less barbaric. No matter how we arrived at this cursed terminus, it is sobering to consider the victory of the Taliban; they won their war to establish a Sunni theocratic state. Like the Khmer Rouge of a ghost Cambodia, they want to go back, and the Talibs will go back to when there was nothing but Islam.

I never supported the US occupation of Afghanistan, or the idea of transforming the country through “nation building.” I opposed the war and occupation as administered by Republican and Democrat presidents. In point of fact I favored withdrawing US combat troops from Afghanistan in late 2001, when they smashed the al-Qaeda network with ground operations and a massive aerial bombing campaign. Once US soldiers denied bases to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorists by overthrowing the Taliban, it was time to get out of Dodge.

On Aug. 31, 2021, an anonymous source leaked an audio recording and transcript to Reuters. The materials documented a July 23, 2021 phone call Biden made to Ashraf Ghani, then president of Afghanistan. During the 14-minute call, Biden made clear that he knew catastrophe was unfolding, he told Ghani: “I need not tell you the perception around the world and in parts of Afghanistan, I believe, is that things are not going well in terms of the fight against the Taliban. And there is a need, whether it is true or not, there is a need to project a different picture.”

Ghani responded with: “We are facing a full-scale invasion, composed of Taliban, full Pakistani planning and logistical support, and at least 10-15,000 international terrorists, predominantly Pakistanis thrown into this.” Knowing he had leverage, Biden retorted: “You clearly have the best military, you have 300,000 well-armed forces versus 70-80,000 and they’re clearly capable of fighting well, we will continue to provide close air support, if we know what the plan is and what we are doing.”

Biden was well aware the Taliban could win, and lied when he told the American people the Taliban taking the “whole country is highly unlikely.” Biden wanted Ghani to lie as well, pressuring him to do so with the threat of withholding US air support. Can you say “Quid pro quo”? Democrats tried to impeach President Trump, accusing him of withholding military aid to Ukraine in the hope of forcing Ukraine President Zelensky to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden. According to that logic, when Biden threatened to stop military aid to Afghan allies because he wanted them to “project a different picture,” that was cause for impeachment.

“Bagram Prison, Afghanistan.” Oil on linen. Mark Vallen. 2009.

“Bagram Prison, Afghanistan.” Oil on linen. Mark Vallen. 2009.

On August 15, 2021 the Taliban seized Bagram Air Base and Bagram Prison, where al-Qaeda, Taliban, and Islamic State Khorason (IS-K) terrorists were held. All 5,000 were released. That same day the Taliban seized Pul-d-Charkhi prison in Kabul, all of its 5,000 al-Qaeda, Taliban, and IS-K prisoners were released. On Aug. 27, 2021, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby confirmed thousands of IS-K prisoners were freed.

The Afghan affiliate of ISIS is named after the Khorasan province of Afghanistan were IS-K has operated since its 2015 founding. (The acronym for the group also appears as ISIS-K and ISKP). Why did Biden not transfer dangerous terrorist leaders in Bagram and Pul-d-Charkhi prisons to detention facilities outside of Afghanistan before initiating his withdrawal?

President Ashraf Ghani fled the country on August 15, 2021, and the Afghan government fell. Thousands of Taliban gunmen swept into Kabul. Government soldiers threw down their arms and surrendered. Heavily armed Taliban fighters escorted their leaders into the presidential palace, and the white and black flag of the Taliban was once again hoisted above the presidential palace.

The Washington Post published a startling fact in their story on Afghanistan’s fall to the Taliban. When Ghani fled and the government collapsed, a meeting was arranged between US General Kenneth McKenzie—head of Central Command, and Abdul Ghani Baradar, co-founder of the Taliban. At the parley in Qatar the Taliban leader told McKenzie: “We have a problem. We have two options to deal with it: you, the United States military, take responsibility for securing Kabul or you have to allow us to do it.” The Taliban were offering the US the option of controlling the capital city. Knowing Biden wanted withdrawal, a deal was struck, the US could have the airport until Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline, and the Taliban would take everything else. McKenzie deliberately turned Kabul over to the Taliban.

Taliban gunman holding AK-47 rifle (left), holds Afghanis captive. They stand by wall art promoting UN “Sustainable Development Goals.” Points four and five are “Quality Education” and “Gender Equality.” Photographer unknown.

Taliban gunman holding AK-47 rifle (left), holds Afghanis captive. They stand by wall art promoting UN “Sustainable Development Goals.” Points four and five are “Quality Education” and “Gender Equality.” Photographer unknown.

It is horrifying to realize the magnitude of that agreement. The pact gave the Taliban, with their history of suicide bombing attacks against innocent civilians, total control of security outside the gates of Hamid Karzai International Airport. The Taliban appointed Khalil Haqqani as “security chief” of Kabul. Khalil is a leader of the Haqqani Network, which President Obama officially designated a terrorist group in 2012, placing it on the Foreign Terrorist Organization list of the US State Department. It was all leading to a cataclysmic bloodbath.

Also on August 15, 2021, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told White House correspondent Jacqui Heinrich: “American citizens will not be given priority evacuation over Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants. Once we get more airlift out of Kabul, we’re going to put as many people on those planes as we can. There will be a mix, not just American citizens, but perhaps some Afghan SIV applicants as well. We’re going to focus on getting people out of the country, then sorting it out at the next stop. It’s not going to be just Americans first, then SIV applicants.” Again, I almost fell out of my chair when I read those words.

On August 16, 2021, as the Taliban overwhelmed Kabul, Biden said: “American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.” Biden insulted the 69,000 Afghan soldiers who died fighting the Taliban since 2001, his shameful remark aggrieved the family members of the slain Afghan troops. No one would dare say anything as loathsome about the 58,220 US soldiers who perished in the Vietnam war—but Biden’s slander of Afghan allies who gave their lives for a semblance of liberty, well… his remarks about them did not go unnoticed by others who have considered America a friend. People of Ukraine and Taiwan, you are next in line.

As the Afghan government crumbled, US helicopters airlifted hundreds of US Embassy personnel to Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport. Desperate to escape, thousands of Afghanis and much smaller numbers of Americans and other foreign nationals, gathered outside the airport’s entry gates. The Taliban were there as well, making it nearly impossible to enter the installation. They pushed frantic crowds back with whips and sharp sticks, using gunfire for crowd control. Remember, the Biden administration tasked the Taliban with “securing” Kabul. Frenzied mothers passed their babies over barbed wire barriers to US Marines… praying the toddlers would be airlifted. Hundred climbed airport walls to storm the tarmac and try to get on a plane. This was the “safe, deliberate and responsible” withdrawal Biden promised.

"A heartrending video destined to be part of Biden’s legacy."

"A heartrending video destined to be part of Biden’s legacy."

In a heartrending video destined to be part of Biden’s legacy, hundreds of Afghans are seen running alongside a US Air Force C-17 cargo plane on Aug. 16, 2021. A handful of young men climbed onto the wheel well containing the plane’s landing gear; they clung to the plane as it taxied down the tarmac gaining speed.

Once the plane took off and was hundreds of feet in the air, the men lost their grip and fell to their death. Horrified people on the airstrip filmed the shocking spectacle with their cell phones; the appalling sight is a visual summation of the withdrawal. Two days later Pentagon spokesman John Kirby confirmed there were “at least several fatalities.”

The pilots could not fully retract the C-17’s landing gear, so they made an emergency landing in a nearby country. They found that an Afghan man wanting to fly out of the country, had attempted to stow away by climbing up the plane’s landing gear.

When the plane was airborne, the landing gear retracted and crushed the poor soul. From inside the plane, someone on the flight crew filmed the maimed body stuck in the gears, the broken limbs violently flapping in the jet engine blast.

Biden’s blundering withdrawal left behind $85 billion in US weaponry. As the Taliban seized depots, warehouses, and hangars formally under control of the Afghan army, they found huge amounts of weaponry, ammunition, and spare parts. Current video shows the Taliban mostly ditching their old Soviet made AK-47s for new American made M4 carbines equipped with Advanced Combat Optical Gun sights (ACOG). The Taliban now wear Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniforms, Modular Tactical Vests, and Advanced Combat Helmets. After Biden’s withdrawal the Taliban formed the “Victorious Force” unit to patrol Hamid Karzai International Airport; the unit is completely equipped with top-of-the-line US gear, including Humvees armed with M2 .50 Caliber Machine Guns.

Taliban soldiers in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 2021. Fully equipped with American gear, and riding one of the 42,000 pick-up trucks and SUVs left behind courtesy of Joe Biden. Twitter photo: @AsaadHannaa

Taliban soldiers in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 2021. Fully equipped with American gear, and riding one of the 42,000 pick-up trucks and SUVs left behind courtesy of Joe Biden. Twitter photo: @AsaadHannaa

With billions of dollars worth of small arms courtesy of Biden, the Taliban are now the most well equipped terrorist army the world has ever seen. Here is just a tiny fraction of the Taliban’s small arms inventory.

More than 600,000 automatic rifles—various platforms M16A2, M4 carbine, M249 SAW, M24 Sniper Weapon System, over 20 million rounds of 7.62mm, 9 million .50 caliber rounds, 1,394 M203 Grenade launchers with 61,000 40mm rounds. That’s just the small stuff.

The Taliban now have around 208 fixed wing aircraft and helicopters, including Super Tucano light attack aircraft, and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. For Pete’s sake they even have four C-130 Hercules cargo planes.

On Aug. 31, 2021 the Taliban flew a Black Hawk over Kandahar—birthplace of the Taliban. They also flew one at Kandahar’s Sept. 1, 2021 Victory Parade. Dozens of MaxxPro MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles were in the parade, along with heavy US military trucks carrying M119 howitzers.

With all that, the Afghan 6th Century warlords have been transmogrified into futuristic jihadists armed with computerized weaponry. The Taliban now have PSQ-20 Enhanced Night Vision Goggles, 16,035 of them—allowing them to fight at night.

They have dozens of Boeing ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), used for surveillance and tracking enemy positions. Another waking nightmare is the Talibs seizing over 100 FGM-48 JAVELIN missile systems. The JAVELIN is a “manportable” anti-armor weapon designed to “kill” tanks, however, it can also destroy fortifications.

Just as worrisome, the Taliban seized Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment (HIIDE). Those devices hold identifying biometric data like iris scans, fingerprints, and biographical info on millions of Afghanis. HIIDE devices can plug into Afghan governmental databases, which of course will reveal to the Taliban who worked for the Afghan government, army or police. There are reports the Taliban have already armed a special unit with HIIDE; their mission is to use biometric data in the hunt for Afghans who helped US and allied forces.

If the Taliban cannot operate or maintain their newly acquired weaponry, friends in China, Russia, and Pakistan can assist. China uses its own biometric devices to control their Uighur population. The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency of Pakistan has a close relationship with the Taliban, and they have the know-how to run HIIDE devices. There are already reports of US military armored vehicles being transported to the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is easy to imagine the Taliban selling or supplying military equipment and supplies to terrorists everywhere.

Afghan folk singer Fawad Andrabi, 2021.

Afghan folk singer Fawad Andrabi, 2021.

As US forces in Kabul prepared for withdrawal, the Taliban murdered an elder folk singer in the remote Andarab District of Baghlan Provice.

I was interested in “world music” as a pre-teen and developed a taste for ethnic folk music, so I was familiar with the instrument the slain folk singer played. His name was Fawad Andrabi, and he took his name from the land he loved. He played the Ghaychak, the traditional and ancient bowed lute common to Afghanistan, but with origins in ancient Persia.

Fawad would spread out a blanket in a beautiful gorge to entertain friends and strangers with his renditions of traditional songs. On Aug. 28, 2021 the Taliban visited Fawad at his home, his son said they drank tea with him. Afterwards they dragged him from his house and shot him in the head because the Taliban believe music is sinful and un-Islamic. It goes without saying that the killing of the gentle folk singer is the fate of art and culture under the medievalist Taliban. Fawad’s story was not news in America, I mention it here, both to honor his spirit, and curse the devils who took his life.

Consider the music of a very different performer and composer, Ustad Zahir Bakhtari. Though entirely unknown in the West, Bakhtari is a consummate professional musician and singer. He plays evocative classical Afghan music on sitar, but is also superb within the Afghan pop music millieu, as evidenced by his recent song Hawa Jam Ast. How will Bakhtari—and the many musicians like him, survive a regime that considers music “un-Islamic”?

Tweet. Nov. 24, 2020.

Tweet. Nov. 24, 2020.

Remember when Joe Biden said “We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again,” and “It’s overwhelmingly in the interest of the United States of America to have a great relationship with NATO and with the EU. I have a very different view than my predecessor did.” Look at how that worked out.

After the fall of Kabul, the conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, tried to reach Biden by phone to coordinate a response. His calls were not returned; it took Biden a full 36 hours to respond to Johnson. On Aug. 18, 2021, the British Parliament held an emergency debate on Afghanistan. That received scant attention in US media, but the debate illustrated how badly Biden had ruptured the “special relationship” between the US and the UK.

From across the political divide, Members of Parliament excoriated Biden for his “shameful” and “catastrophic” withdrawal. British MP Tom Tugendhat of the Conservative Party, served in Afghanistan. He delivered a compelling speech that brought an emotional quiet to the House of Commons as MPs contemplated its truths. MP Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrat party, said: “The American decision to withdraw was not just a mistake, it was an avoidable mistake.” MP Khalid Mahmood of the democratic socialist Labour Party said: “The Biden government have just come in and, without looking at what is happening on the ground, have taken a unilateral decision, throwing us and everybody else to the fire.” Ultimately, the debate ended with MPs speaking contemptuously of Joe Biden’s handling of Afghanistan.

Think about that for a moment. British Parliamentarians losing all respect for an American president because of a massive foreign policy catastrophe. Here is something else to contemplate… ABC, CBS, MSNBC, and CNN did not even cover the story.

Tweet. March 6, 2020.

Tweet. March 6, 2020.

US allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), also criticized Biden. Armin Laschet of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU-CSU) coalition party, said of Biden’s withdrawal:

“It is the biggest debacle that NATO has suffered since its founding, and we’re standing before an epochal change.” Laschet will likely replace Chancellor Angela Merkel, who also had harsh words for Biden, Merkel said: “This is an extremely bitter development. Bitter, dramatic and terrifying. It is a terrible development for the millions of Afghans who want a more liberal society.

I am thinking of the pain of families of soldiers who lost their lives fighting there. Now everything seems so hopeless.” Merkel went on to say the withdrawal was carried out for “domestic political reasons. Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier criticized Biden’s withdrawal: “The images of desperation at Kabul airport are shameful for the political West. We are experiencing a human tragedy for which we share responsibility.”

French President Emmanuel Macron had a telephone conversation with Joe Biden where he emphasized “our collective moral responsibility toward the Afghan men and women who need our protection and who share our values. We cannot abandon them.” In the Biden White House readout of the call, the words “our collective moral responsibility” and “we cannot abandon them” were left out.

I fully expected jihadis would mount an attack on retreating US forces.

On Aug. 26, 2021 that moment of dread was realized; terrorists struck the “Abbey Gate” of Hamid Karzai International Airport with a suicide bomb attack. Close to the gate a huge crowd of Afghan men, women, and children hoping to be evacuated, stood near or in, a deep concrete ditch filled with sewage water. As they waved travel papers and pleaded for entry, US soldiers plucked a lucky few from the morass. Wearing an explosive vest the terrorist waded into the crowd and detonated his bomb. The explosion ripped through the mass of people. Heaps of mutilated, limbless bodies covered the sidewalk and filled the ditch, its waters turned blood red.

Marine Corps Sgt. Nicole Gee, 23. The service member from Sacramento, California was one of 13 US soldiers killed in a terrorist suicide bombing at Hamid Karzai International Airport on Aug. 26, 2021. Photographer unknown.

Marine Corps Sgt. Nicole Gee, 23. The service member from Sacramento, California was one of 13 US soldiers killed in a terrorist suicide bombing at Hamid Karzai International Airport on Aug. 26, 2021. Photographer unknown.

The blast took the lives of 13 American soldiers guarding the airport, 11 Marines, a Navy corpsman, and an Army Staff Sgt. 18 US soldiers were wounded. 170 Afghanis were killed in the massacre, with 150 wounded.

Islamic State Khorason (IS-K) took credit for the bombing. Did the Taliban allow the terrorists to pass through their “security” check points to carry out the attack?

Two weeks before the bombing CNN’s Clarissa Ward interviewed an IS-K leader in Kabul. He said IS-K fighters had no problem entering the capital or passing through Taliban checkpoints. Ward fled Afghanistan on Aug. 20 due to Taliban threats on her life.

Unbelievably, just hours after IS-K carried out their suicide bomb massacre at the airport, US General McKenzie said during a press conference that the US will continue to rely on the “Taliban as a tool to protect us as much as possible.”

In the airport bombing aftermath, Biden said on Aug. 27, 2021: “There is no evidence thus far that I’ve been given as a consequence by any of the commanders in the field that there has been collusion between the Taliban and ISIS in carrying out what happened today.” Those are nothing but weasel words. The extremist Haqqani Network is considered to be the deadliest Islamist terror group in Afghanistan. Infamous for conducting suicide bomb attacks and their affiliation with al-Qaeda, they pledged allegiance to the Taliban in 1995. Leaders of the Haqqani Network and the Taliban have said they are one and the same organizationally.

More to the point, a May 2020 UN Security Council report stated that Islamic State Khorason “operations resulting in civilian casualties allow Taliban deniability whereas ISIS-K is willing to claim responsibility to demonstrate capability and relevance.” The report said “relevance” to IS-K meant proving they are “the only defiant terror group in an effort to gain recruitment from potentially dissident Taliban or Al-Qaida members who oppose any agreement with the United States.” The United Nations report also dropped this bombshell:

“Most attacks claimed by ISIS-K demonstrated some degree of ‘involvement, facilitation, or the provision of technical assistance’ by the Haqqani Network. Furthermore, member states have stated that ISIS-K ‘lacked the capability to launch complex attacks in Kabul on its own’ while taking responsibility for operations that had, in all likelihood, been carried out by the Haqqani Network.”

The bodies of 13 US service members killed in terrorist suicide bombing at Hamid Karzai International Airport, return home on Aug. 28, 2021.

The bodies of 13 US service members killed in terrorist suicide bombing at Hamid Karzai International Airport, return home on Aug. 28, 2021.

Americans were already numb with shock over the news of 13 US soldiers massacred by an Islamic State suicide bomber, when Biden gave them more unwelcome news.

On Aug. 30, 2021 a press briefing was held with John Kirby, Pentagon Press Secretary, and General McKenzie, head of US Central Command.

A reporter asked McKenzie: “Do you have a message to Americans and allies that were left behind?” McKenzie responded with: “We think the citizens that were not brought out, number in the low, very low hundreds.”

… American citizens left behind in Afghanistan by the Biden administration… only numbered in… the low… very low… hundreds. Nothing to be upset about, just US nationals left to the tender mercies of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Haqqani Network, and Islamic State Khorason, but only in the low… very low… hundreds.

As an American, perhaps the most shocking thing about Biden’s disorderly withdrawal was that he deliberately left hundreds of Americans in Afghanistan—he abandoned them to a fate dealt by terrorists. In an Aug. 18, 2021 interview with ABC News George Stephanopoulos, Biden said US troops would stay beyond the Aug. 31 deadline if necessary to get Americans out. He said: “If there’s American citizens left, we’re gonna stay to get them out.” Liar.

On Aug. 31, 2021, after the final American C-17 transport plane flew out of Hamid Karzai International Airport the day before with the last US soldiers on board, Biden spoke from the State Dining Room of the White House. He praised his withdrawal as an “extraordinary success,” saying it was “the largest airlift in US history, evacuating over 120,000 US citizens, citizens of our allies, and Afghan allies of the United States.” But he did not evacuate 120,000 Americans, he pulled out 5,400 US citizens and left 100s behind. As for the Afghan allies that fought by our side, untold thousands were left to the Taliban.

Biden continued: “To those asking for a third decade of war in Afghanistan I ask, ‘What is the vital national interest?’ I simply do not believe that the safety and security of America is enhanced by continuing to deploy thousands of American troops and spending billions of dollars in Afghanistan.”

Families of US soldiers killed in Kabul terror bombing, criticized Biden for checking his watch at Dover Air Base, while receiving remains of deceased. This anonymous meme captured the moment with a mock TIME magazine cover.

Families of US soldiers killed in Kabul terror bombing, criticized Biden for checking his watch at Dover Air Base, while receiving remains of deceased. This anonymous meme captured the moment with a mock TIME magazine cover.

What is the vital national interest? Remember that Green New Deal everyone is squawking about?

Lithium is a vital ingredient in making batteries for electric cars and buses—it’s also key in manufacturing batteries for laptops and cellphones.

A team of Pentagon officials and US geologists in 2010 discovered Afghanistan has the largest deposits of lithium in the world; the Pentagon referred to Afghanistan as the “Saudi Arabia of lithium.” Afghanistan also has huge deposits of rare earth elements, used as essential components in all types of high-tech products.

By 2018 Communist China produced 80% of the world’s rare earth elements. To be blunt, Biden just handed the Saudi Arabia of lithium over to Communist China. On Sept. 2, 2021, Taliban spokesman Zabihulla Mujahid, praised China as its closest ally; saying “China is our principal partner and for us represents a fundamental and extraordinary opportunity because it’s ready to invest in and reconstruct our country. China represents our passport towards the markets of the whole world.”

Now, what is the vital national interest?

The cruelest joke of all is contained in Biden’s “extraordinary success” speech, his taking credit for ending America’s “forever war.” I hate to say this but, the war did not end, it simply opened a new chapter. What is the vital national interest? Let me put it this way, now that Biden pulled out of Afghanistan, why not withdraw the 28,000 US soldiers deployed in South Korea? After all, they have been in that “forever war” for 70 years. I am certain North Korea’s “Dear Respected Leader” Kim Jong Un and his overlords in Communist China would never ever invade the south. I have come to view Biden’s Afghan withdrawal as no less preposterous.

At a Sept. 7, 2021 press conference in Kabul, the unelected Taliban ruling clique was announced—a formal celebration of the junta has been scheduled for a future date. Here are a few names from the terrorist pecking order of the so-called Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund will be Afghanistan’s acting “Prime Minister.” He is on an active UN sanctions list from Jan. 25, 2001 “regarding acts and activities of the Taliban authorities.” Akhund was previously “Foreign Minister” in the original Taliban 1996 regime overthrown by the US in 2001.

Taliban terrorists on the streets of Kabul, completely outfitted in US gear. Aug. 29, 2021.

Taliban terrorists on the streets of Kabul, completely outfitted in US gear. Aug. 29, 2021.

Sirajuddin Haqqani will head the Ministry of Interior, responsible for policing and national security. Sirajuddin is a member of the terrorist Haqqani Network, a group placed on the US State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organization list. He is wanted by the FBI for a 2008 armed attack on a Kabul hotel that killed six people, including an American. He is also wanted for plotting to assassinate former Afghan President Hamid Karzai in 2008. The FBI are offering a $10 million reward for information leading to Sirajuddin’s arrest. The FBI describe him as “armed and dangerous.”

Pssst, hey FBI guys, he’s in the Ministry of Interior building, Airport Road, opposite Aria City, Kabul. Can I get my reward now?

At the press conference the Taliban’s “Supreme Leader” and “Commander of the Faithful,” Mullah Hebatullah Akhundzadeh, told the world: “I assure all citizens that the rulers will do everything in their power to uphold Islamic law in the country.” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen stressed the Taliban government will not recognize nor establish relations with Israel, which will no doubt thrill the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) crowd, along with a certain “squad” of US Congressional Reps.

There are 5 members of the new Talib regime that you should know about. They were in the first Taliban reign of terror of 1996 to 2001. When the US toppled the Taliban, the 5 were captured and charged with a variety of offenses; two were wanted for the mass murder of Shiite Muslims. The 5 were sent to Guantanamo Bay detention camp (Gitmo), where they became known as the Gitmo 5 or Taliban 5. On May 31, 2014, Pres. Barack Obama had them traded for US deserter Bowe Bergdahl, who abandoned his post and surrendered to the Taliban in 2009. The Haqqani network held Bergdahl prisoner. The US had stipulations for the release; the 5 had to stay in Qatar and not engage in the politics of Afghanistan. Imagine Obama’s surprise when the 5 broke their promise!

The 5 took part in the 2021 insurgency, and were given appointments in the new Taliban “government.” Their names and positions follow: Mullah Norullah Nori (Border and Tribal Affairs Minister), Abdul Haq Wasiq (Intelligence Director), Mulla Mohammad Fazl (Deputy Defense Minister), Khair Ulla Said Wali Khairkhwa (Information and Culture Minister), and Mohammad Nabi Omari. While not given a post in the central government, Omari was appointed governor of Khost Province.

On Sept 10, 2021, Taliban spokesman Sayed Zekrullah Hashimi, told the press: “A woman can’t be a minister, it is like you put something on her neck that she can’t carry. It is not necessary for women to be in the cabinet, they should give birth.” It is so nice that Biden’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken, called the Taliban “cooperative, flexible, and businesslike.

Sept. 11, 2021 is the 20th anniversary of 19 al-Qaeda terrorists hijacking four commercial airliners, and flying them with passengers and crew into American targets. Two planes hit the Twin Towers in New York City, one struck the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C. The 3 terrorists on Flight 93 intended to crash into the United States Capital, but some passengers had another idea, they would fight the hijackers.

Todd Beamer gave the signal—“Let’s roll,” and the heroes jumped the knife wielding al-Qaeda fiends, preventing Flight 93 from hitting the Capital. It crashed into a Pennsylvania field instead.

“Fail.” Credit: POTUS 2021.

“Fail.” Credit: POTUS 2021.

The 20th anniversary observance will be more somber than those of previous years. We fought the Taliban and al-Qaeda for twenty-years, we poured $2 Trillion into the war, more than 2,300 US soldiers were killed. The people of Afghanistan suffered greatly, 64,100 of their soldiers died at our side fighting the Taliban and 111,000 Afghan civilians perished in the warfare.

This year’s commemoration will be more than tragic because the reprehensible Taliban are back in power and sitting on a mountain of sophisticated US arms. The wretched al-Qaeda, rapidly growing in Afghanistan, will celebrate America’s Sept. 11 losses past and present, and plot new attacks against us. And Joe Biden, the president who greatly weakened and humiliated America on the world stage, will continue to shamble on, mumbling as he manages America’s decline.



Sept. 17, 2021: The BBC reports the Taliban shut down the Women’s Affairs Ministry, and replaced it with the “Ministry of Vice and Virture,” which will enforce strict religious doctrine.

Sept. 17, 2021: The BBC reports the US Department of Defense admits killing an innocent man working with a US aid group in Afghanistan. US forces carried out a drone strike on Aug. 29, 2021, thinking the aid worker was an ISIS-K suicide bomber readying an attack on Kabul airport. After the strike the Pentagon claimed to have killed 2 “high-profile” terrorists. Instead, they killed aid worker Zemari Ahmadi and 9 members of his family, 7 were children. General McKenzie stated: “It was a mistake and I offer my sincere apologies.”

Year Zero: Converting from VICE to Virtue


Just another corporate media platform.

On April 9, 2021, VICE, the digital media and broadcasting company that touts itself as “the definitive guide to enlightening information,” published a ghastly interview with Matt Loughrey, a successful 42-year-old Irish photo restorer who developed a lucrative career colorizing historic photos. The article was titled, These People Were Arrested by the Khmer Rouge and Never Seen Again. It was subtitled, These portraits, recently colorized, humanize that tragedy. But that was all a lie. VICE and Loughrey’s efforts only “humanized” barbarism. In June of 2021 I stumbled upon this report quite by accident. Perhaps this essay can bring the story to a wider audience.

The VICE interview presented Loughrey’s colorized and digitally altered photos of prisoners held by the genocidal communist regime of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge (Red Khmers), the radical Maoists who seized power and tormented the country from 1975 to 1979. Some two million Cambodians perished under the harsh rule of the Khmer Rouge; they died of preventable disease, starvation, torture, and a campaign of mass execution. As an artist, I have always felt unease concerning the colorization of historic black and white photos. That is because I also have a great interest in, and respect for history; attempts at rewriting history raises my ire. But what VICE and Loughrey did was outside the bounds of good judgement and decency.

Cell block at Security Prison 21, circa 1979. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

Cell block at Security Prison 21, circa 1979. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

Loughrey based his altered colorized portraits on actual black and white prison induction photos the communists took of their captives before locking them up in Security Prison 21. Also known as S-21, the prison was located in Cambodia’s capital of Phnom Penh.

Inside the prison starvation, interrogation, torture, and execution was the daily regimen. It held 20,000 prisoners, but only 7 left the building alive in 1979. There were 150 such camps across Cambodia, though Security Prison 21 was certainly the largest.

S-21 was not a mass execution center per se. When masses of detainees were marked for liquidation, they were trucked to Choeung Ek, a large “killing field” outside of Phnom Penh. Still, hundreds of innocent victims were dumped into unmarked graves on the grounds of S-21.

When the Khmer Rouge government was driven from power in 1979 by an invasion of the army of Vietnam, the S-21 death camp was transformed into the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. It continues to maintain an extensive archival collection documenting the genocide conducted by the Khmer Rouge. Part of that collection includes the S-21 prisoner photographs and the forced confessions detainees made under torture.

In his VICE interview Loughrey made the dubious claim that he colorized three S-21 photos for “a person in Cambodia” that had contacted him with the request; Loughrey offered no verification of such an appeal. VICE indicated that once Loughrey saw the size of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum photo archives, he decided to download and colorize even more images from the online source. In the interview he was quoted as saying: “The more I looked into it and the more images I saw, I thought, well, this has to be done.” VICE did not report he did so without permission from the museum. It is unknown how many images he filched.

Making things worse, and this is key, Loughrey went far beyond colorizing the photos, he changed the entire facial expressions of the prisoners by digitally painting smiles on their faces! The corners of their mouths curved upwards showing smile lines, their eyes were brightened, their cheeks were glowing. From their faux beaming smiles the prisoners looked as if they were attending a festive occasion rather than being shoved into a death camp. While VICE published Loughrey’ altered smiling photos, they did not publish the original photographs.

Unidentified men in Security Prison 21 are bound with rope and shackled together. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

Unidentified men in Security Prison 21 are bound with rope and shackled together. Photograph taken sometime between 1975-79. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

Without institutional backing, Loughrey colorized photos he lifted from the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum website. That alone was a violation of the museum’s terms and conditions, which states its historic images must never be altered or modified. But painting smiles on the faces of innocent people who were tortured before they were executed… that is hard to fathom.

One reason for Loughrey’s chilly indifference as an “artist” is that, consciously or not, he is part of the postmodern art world, where spectacle and shock carry more weight than substance, and truth is just a social construct. His insensitivity reflects postmodern art stars like Jake and Dinos Chapman, who once clothed ghoulish Nazi mannequins in SS uniforms, replacing their swastika armbands with smiley faces, and exhibited the entire mess at the White Cube gallery in London. Loughrey’s act of painting smiles on the faces of Khmer Rouge victims was pure Chapman brothers—though liberal art institutions will likely receive Loughrey less favorably than they did the “brilliant” Jake and Dinos.

Loughrey’s postmodernist ethics are evident in his obsession with “restoring” historic black and white photographs by way of colorization. He has made a career out of “re-imagining” the past. As a visual artist who has intentionally created many artworks in glorious black and white, I would hate to see a technician in the future colorize my works. Likewise, when I view a photo of Paris taken by Louis Daguerre in 1830, I want to see the world as he and his colleagues saw it. I do not want his vision to be “restored” or “re-imagined.” Colorizing Daguerre’s unique photos would be a crime against art and history.

Imagine the outrage if someone painted smiley faces on the photos of those who died in Nazi extermination camps like Auschwitz. In point of fact, Loughrey did something very close to that, provoking an angry response from the Auschwitz Museum (you will find the details if you continue reading). Most importantly, Loughrey and VICE committed an affront against the dignity of all Cambodian people, an abusive blow equal to a racist attack. The oh so progressive VICE did this, and it should never be forgotten.

Unidentified female prisoner in Security Prison 21. Photograph taken sometime between 1975-79. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

Unidentified female prisoner in Security Prison 21. Photograph taken sometime between 1975-79. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

The unaltered, black and white prisoner photos from S-21 are haunting. Looking through those photos archived online by the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, one young woman caught my eye. She is unidentified. Museum records state only that she was held in cell number 16 (indicated by the tags on her blouse), and that she was prisoner 3,753 (hand written on the photo by a Khmer Rouge guard). Aside from the fact that she died, everything else about her is a mystery.

It is difficult to interpret her expression; to me the young women looks as if she had seen too much evil and it no longer fazed her. That, or it was the demeanor of a woman who knew she was doomed. Before I discovered that Matt Loughrey had transformed Prisoner 3,753 into a gussied-up glamour doll, I chose to use the original unaltered photo to illustrate my essay. The altered photo reminds me of a lyric from a 1981 song by UK punk band, Crass: “Like a glamour billboard in a battlefield. At least the bloody-red poppy was of nature’s will.” Out of respect for the deceased, I will not post that altered colorized abomination to my article.

After VICE published Loughrey’s photos on April 9, 2021, Cambodian nationals and those in diaspora began to inveigh against the cruel racist provocation. April 10, 2021, the National Cambodian Heritage Museum and Killing Fields Memorial in Chicago, Illinois, issued a statement that read in part: “We do not endorse those that seek to profit and benefit from the violent and lived traumas of our past and current history. Minimizing the pain and trauma of our community from those who are not connected to the experience is not only revising and erasing history, it’s a violent act.”

On April 11, 2021, Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts (MCFA) located in Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia, issued a statement that read in part: “MCFA does not accept this kind of manipulation, and considers this work of Matt Loughrey to seriously affect the dignity of the victims, the reality of Cambodia’s history, and in violation of the rights of the Museum as the lawful owners and custodians of these photographs.”

April 11, 2021 statement from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, Kingdom of Cambodia.

April 11, 2021 statement from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, Kingdom of Cambodia.

On April 16, 2021, the Auschwitz Museum located on the grounds of the former Nazi concentration camp in Poland, tweeted a message of solidarity with the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. In that dispatch the Auschwitz Museum made known they had contacted Matt Loughrey and asked him to remove from his Instagram account, a color animation he created of Czesława Kwoka. He refused. Kwoka was a 14-year-old girl who died in Auschwitz on March 12, 1943. She was a Polish Catholic and one of the approximately 230,000 children the Nazis sent to the camp for extermination. Only around 650 children survived Auschwitz.

Tweets from the Auschwitz Museum and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, April, 2021.

Tweets from the Auschwitz Museum and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, April, 2021.

Not surprisingly, without permission Matt Loughrey made his animation of Kwoka with images owned by the Auschwitz Museum. He used an imaging technique he developed called X-Oculi, arrogantly describing it as “a combination of unrivaled artistry and cutting edge orbital motion-tracking.” After refusing the reasonable request of the Auschwitz Museum, the pretentious Loughrey no doubt received a tidal wave of negative criticism. On April 16, 2021, the offending animation was taken down from Instagram without comment or fanfare.

A petition demanding that Matt Loughrey apologize “for the theft, manipulation and appropriation of these photographs,” and that VICE apologize for “publication and support of Matt Loughrey’s work” was initiated by Dany Pen and 7 other Cambodians. Pen lost her family members at the S-21 death camp, she had biting words for VICE:

“I strongly implore VICE to take down these photos that are promoting white supremacy, cultural appropriation, cultural erasure, and victim dismissal. It promotes harm and brings on psychological and emotional violence towards my Cambodian community.”

It is troubling that our time has produced characters like Matt Loughrey, as well as sensationalist rags like VICE. Loughrey’s website touts his “ambitious photo colorization project” as “an option for museums and libraries to upgrade and re-imagine their own visitor experiences.” With no sense of irony his website bears a masthead reading “Bridging a gap between history & art.” He dared to write, “we find ourselves in an age of image obsolescence,” and that his digital skills are “a form of visual defense against this.” He spouted even more rubbish with, “collections are being rescued, detail and character that could never be seen in the original images is being uncovered.” All while the ne’er-do-well erased history and painted a happy face on genocide.

Loughrey’s website makes no mention of insulting and hurting the Cambodian people. He does however brag that “current and previous clients include: DELL, 21st Century Fox, National Parks Service, BBC, ABC Australia, The New York Post, The Guardian, The Times, National Geographic and more.” If they had any principles these supporting companies would wash their hands of Loughrey. He should delete his websites and slink away, hoping no one will recall his depravity.

On April 11, 2021, the “editorial leadership” of VICE issued a short and confused statement that they were taking down the Loughrey photos and interview. Saying the photos were “manipulated beyond colorization” and the “story did not meet the editorial standards of VICE,” they called publishing the materials an “error.” VICE did not have an editor informed enough to realize at first glance that the photos were drastically altered. If the interview and photos did not meet the lofty editorial standards of VICE why publish them in the first place? The genocide committed by the Khmer Rouge remains a historically earth shaking story, but the vacant millennials running the show at VICE have blank memories. The remarks from VICE “leadership” is an admission the company has absolutely failed as a legitimate news organization. On April 16, 2021, they released an updated statement that was closer to an apology—but still worthless. I have entirely lost my patience with poseurs who feign humanitarianism.

On April, 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge seized Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Photo, AP.

On April, 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge seized Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Photo, AP.

I was 21-years-old when the Khmer Rouge seized Cambodia’s capital of Phnom Penh on the morning of April 17, 1975. That same day they ordered the complete evacuation of Phnom Penh and other cities. By force of arms they marched everyone into the countryside to undertake the building of an agrarian utopia. In doing so they closed schools, factories, and hospitals; the sick and infirmed were forced to march, so too children and the elderly—thousands died along the way as food, water, and medical care were not provided. At the time, reports coming out of Phnom Penh were unsettling. When I saw the photo of a Khmer Rouge soldier pointing his 1911 pistol at shop owners, demanding they abandon their businesses and leave the city, I knew Cambodia was doomed. Because of the Vietnam war, I had been following politics in Southeast Asia since the mid-60s as an idealistic pre-Teen, so I knew of the Khmer Rouge. But they were about to give me, and the world, a lesson in medievalist savagery.

The leader of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot, who was referred to as “Brother Number One,” declared the communist takeover to be “Year Zero,” the beginning of an era when all vestiges of the past would be destroyed. Straight away, all money, banking, private property, and religions were abolished. The liquidation of the regime’s enemies started. Anyone who represented the past—educated middle-class professionals, technicians, artists, writers, filmmakers, musicians, were all exterminated. Wearing eyeglasses or speaking a foreign language could identify a person as an intellectual to be executed. Everyone in Year Zero Cambodia was forced to wear Khmer black pajamas and the traditional red and white gingham Krama scarf. To do otherwise was dangerous.

The “Marxists” of the Khmer Rouge envisioned the country’s peasants building communism through collective labor and people’s communes. They applied Mao Zedong’s “Great Leap Forward” and “Cultural Revolution” to their nation. In fact the Chinese Communist Party backed the Khmer Rouge, giving them political support and endless military supplies. But the Red Khmers also viewed the ancient 12th century Angkor Empire of Cambodia as an agrarian utopia to be replicated. They called their nation “Kampuchea,” using the Khmer pronunciation of Cambodia. They referred to their leaders as “The Angkar” (The Organization). And on Jan. 5, 1976, they presented the official red flag of “Democratic Kampuchea,” which incorporated a stylized Angkor Wat symbol in yellow. The Khmer Rouge were nothing if not ethnic and national supremacists.

The Khmer Rouge red flag of “Democratic Kampuchea,” incorporating a stylized Angkor Wat symbol in yellow.

The Khmer Rouge red flag of “Democratic Kampuchea,” incorporating a stylized Angkor Wat symbol in yellow.

Once taking power the intolerant Khmer Rouge began to annihilate 1000s of ethnic Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, and Cham people. Condemning religion as “detrimental,” the Khmer Rouge targeted Christians, Catholics, Muslims, and Buddhists for extermination.

In 1975 they destroyed the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Phnom Penh, taking it apart stone by stone until there was nothing left. It was one of 73 Catholic churches destroyed in Year Zero.

In 1975 there were 66,000 Buddhist monks and 4,000 Buddhist temples. Before the Khmer Rouge were driven from power, they murdered more than 25,000 monks and obliterated 1,968 temples.

Two reporters were working together in Phnom Penh when the Khmer Rouge surrounded the capital—Cambodian photojournalist and interpreter Dith Pran (1942-2008), and NYTimes reporter Sydney Schanberg (1934-2016). Schanberg was one of the last Western journalists to stay in the city. The two witnessed the communist army take the city. In his last dispatch Schanberg wrote: “Most of the soldiers are teenagers. They are universally grim, robot-like, brutal. Weapons drip from them like fruit from trees… grenades, pistols, rifles, rockets.”

The Khmer Rouge wasted no time in unleashing large scale looting and executions. The two reporters were captured by guerrillas Schanberg described as “maniacal.” The two were threatened with death, and only the pleas of Pran saved them from being executed in the street. They took refuge in the French embassy compound along with a throng of desperate foreigners. Being Cambodian Pran was dragged from the embassy by the Khmer Rouge and marched into the countryside; they expelled Schanberg and the other Westerners from the embassy and trucked them to Thailand. As Schanberg noted: “With this act, Cambodia was sealed. The world could not look in. The killing could begin.”

The perilous journey of Dith Pran had just begun. He ended up in a Khmer Rouge work camp as a slave laborer—all for the good of the new “Democratic Kampuchea.” His captors fed him a tablespoon of rice a day, he supplemented his ration with an occasional beetle or small lizard he would secretly catch. He experienced beatings, torture, starvation, and witnessed endless executions. Pran endured four years of this, and when Vietnam overthrew the Khmer Rouge in 1979 he broke out of the camp and escaped over the Thai border. His 60 mile flight to freedom had him slogging through muddy fields filled with decomposing human corpses. These were the execution grounds where the Khmer Rouge slaughtered over a million people. Pran dubbed them the “killing fields.”

Excavated grave pit at Security Prison 21, circa 1979. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

Excavated grave pit at Security Prison 21, circa 1979. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

Today the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center stands outside Phnom Penh, it is built on one of the largest Khmer Rouge killing fields. Once an orchard before it was turned into a death camp, there are 129 mass graves in Choeung Ek. Heavy rains still uncover human teeth, bone fragments, and bits of clothing. A Buddhist “stupa” monument commemorating the dead stands in the middle of the killing field. Its plexiglass walls are filled with more than 8,000 skulls found onsite. Many of the skulls show evidence of having been bashed. To save ammunition the Khmer Rouge made victims kneel at the edge of a large pit, then clubbed their heads with steel bars or agricultural hoes; victims fell into the mass grave.

A “killing tree” is also found at Choeung Ek. Whole families were murdered at the camp, including babies. Khmer Rouge guards held toddlers by the ankles, then swung their heads into the tree. The tiny smashed bodies were tossed into a nearby open pit. Despite the communist aim of totally eradicating Buddhist “leeches and worms,” today the tree is covered in Buddhist string bracelets left by visitors as spiritual gifts to the slain little ones.

In 1980 Sydney Schanberg published his book The Death and Life of Dith Pran. The book served as the basis for the 1984 movie The Killing Fields, which depicted the agonies of Cambodia as seen through the experiences of Dith Pran and Sydney Schanberg. The book and the film brought international attention to the tragedy that had befallen Cambodia. If VICE really wanted to “restore” the history of Cambodia and “humanize” the tragedy, they would have recited the tale of Dith Pran to an audience completely unfamiliar with his saga. Instead, VICE published the vulgarities of braggart Matt Loughrey.

Unidentified female prisoner in Security Prison 21. Photograph taken sometime between 1975-79. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

Unidentified female prisoner in Security Prison 21. Photograph taken sometime between 1975-79. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

Cambodians were not the only ones tortured and murdered at the S-21 death camp. In 1978 the Khmer Rouge “navy” captured two hapless young Americans who were sailing off the coast of Cambodia. Michael Deeds and Chris Delance were sent to S-21 where they were tortured for 40 days. The Khmer Rouge were sadistic torturers who employed a variety of techniques in their “interrogations.” They forced prisoners to eat human feces, ripped out fingernails, burned detainees with hot wires or cigarettes, used electric shock, pushed needles under fingernails, administered beatings with sticks or electric wire, used water-boarding and other methods of drowning detainees, and covered victims with centipedes and scorpions.

Michael Deeds and Chris Delance were tortured until they signed “confessions” that they were CIA agents. The commander of S-21 was Kaing Guek Eav, aka “Duch.” After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, Duch testified at his trial that he was given orders by Pol Pot’s right hand man to “destroy all human beings from S-21” before the army of Vietnam arrived. That included Americans Deeds and Delance. They were bound, wrapped in gasoline soaked tires, and set on fire. They were gruesomely executed two days before Vietnamese soldiers liberated the camp. The Vietnamese discovered the prison by following the stench of the many burned bodies left to rot and decompose in the tropical heat. Perhaps Matt Loughrey will digitally paint the two Americans with happy smiling faces.

It is an irony that Cambodian artist Vann Nath (1946-2011) occupied the cell next to where Michael Deeds was locked up. The artist was one of 7 detainees who survived Security Prison 21. Prior to 1975 he made a living painting landscapes and film posters, but in 1977 he ran afoul of the Khmer Rouge and they put him in S-21. Every evening Vann Nath would watch guards pull Deeds from his cell, dragging him elsewhere for “interrogation.” The artist would see the guards return hours later to dump their tortured victim into his cell, where he would forlornly sing to himself. Today, the paintings of Vann Nath are permanently displayed at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Each a depiction of unspeakable brutality, each a condemnation of tyranny. VICE never did a story about Vann Nath, no, they chose to interview the no account Matt Loughrey.

A prisoner interrogated by the Khmer Rouge. Oil painting by Cambodian artist Vann Nath. The painting is in the Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum collection

A prisoner interrogated by the Khmer Rouge. Oil painting by Cambodian artist Vann Nath. The painting is in the Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum collection

In the end, the excesses of the Khmer Rouge sealed their fate. Their xenophobic hatred of ethnic Vietnamese—who settled in Cambodia long ago, caused the Khmer Rouge to massacre them by the thousands. By 1977 the Khmer Rouge were crossing into Vietnam with troops and artillery to attack Vietnamese towns and villages. The last straw came when a large force of heavily armed Khmer Rouge marched four miles into Vietnam and slaughtered over 3,000 Vietnamese civilians in the Ba Chúc massacre on April 18, 1978. On Dec. 25, 1978, Vietnam launched the invasion of “Democratic Kampuchea,” rapidly crushing the lion’s share of Khmer Rouge fighters and overthrowing the Pol Pot regime. On Jan. 7, 1979 Vietnam rolled into Phnom Penh, effectively putting an end to the genocide.

Remnant Khmer Rouge dead enders retreated to jungle enclaves near the Thai border and continued their fight (which of course was backed by Communist China). In 1998 a Khmer Rouge officer put the ailing Pol Pot under house arrest, but Brother Number One died that same year. In 2006 the Cambodian government and the UN established the “Khmer Rouge Tribunal,” where the remaining three Khmer Rouge leaders were tried and sentenced. In 2012 Duch was jailed for life for having run the S-21 death camp. In 2014 Nuon Chea (Brother Number Two) and Khieu Samphan (Khmer Rouge head of state) were sentenced to life for crimes against humanity for their roles in the Year Zero forced evacuations. In 2018 Chea and Samphan were found guilty of genocide for the mass extermination of Vietnamese Cambodians.

VICE supposedly captured the millennial focused market in 2015 with its “alternative” approach to news. Needless to say, I always perceived VICE as just another corporate media platform to be avoided. Now, with their self-inflicted Khmer Rouge wound destroying their carefully constructed “progressive” image, my viewpoint has been vindicated. As for VICE being “the definitive guide to enlightening information,” that pretense was destroyed in a Year Zero of their own making. It is long overdue that journalists convert from a life of vice, to a life of virtue. After all, dictionaries define “vice” as a “wicked, immoral, corrupt, and depraved” practice.

Unidentified male prisoner in Security Prison 21. Photograph taken sometime between 1975-79. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

Unidentified male prisoner in Security Prison 21. Photograph taken sometime between 1975-79. Photo: Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum.

Sanford Biggers Is Not An Oracle

On May 11, 2021 the Smithsonian Magazine ran an article with the headline, This Monumental ‘Oracle’ Statue in NYC Subverts Traditional Sculpture. Artist Sanford  Biggers was being touted by the magazine as the first artist to be invited by the Rockefeller Center to take over their campus with a multimedia survey exhibition. He was also being applauded for exhibiting his 25-foot tall Oracle bronze statue at the Fifth Avenue entrance to the Channel Gardens at Rockefeller Center. The statue is considered the centerpiece of the Biggers take over.

“Oracle.” Sanford Biggers. Bronze. 2021. Photo Daniel Greer, courtesy of Art Production Fund.

“Oracle.” Sanford Biggers. Bronze. 2021. Photo Daniel Greer, courtesy of Art Production Fund.

Whatever profundity the Oracle bronze supposedly possesses is outweighed by its absurdity; it is hard to take seriously.

The enormous African head teetering on top of a Lilliputian Greco-Roman figure holding a golden torch, does not provoke deep thought, but laughter. It reminds one of the jackalope, that faux American critter created by a 1930s taxidermist who grafted antlers onto the head of a jackrabbit carcass.

Oracle is part of Biggers’ Chimera project, it is the largest statue in that series. His Chimera sculptures, some of which are exhibited at the Rockefeller Center, combine African masks with classical European depictions of the body.

In the case of Oracle, humongous size is not matched by a beauty of equal magnitude.

Aside from its droll unsightliness, there is a three-ring circus side-show angle to Oracle. Biggers outfitted the statue with an interactive component allowing the public to ask the sculpture questions, once they activate a QR code. According to the artist, Oracle answers with the voices of “various celebrities” (well of course—there must be celebrities), and the responses will be “mysterious, poetic vagaries which will hopefully be, if not helpful, at least mystifying.” Perhaps Oracle could soothsay how far away in the future it will be before Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa speaks with a QR code initiated celebrity voice.

On a wide, double stepped, white platform, the Oracle sits on its royal black throne. Emblazoned on the seat of power one finds a repeated circular image of what appears to be a lotus blossom. A closer look reveals each petal of the lotus is the cross-section of a slave ship filled with its human cargo. It is an accursed flower, and it is Biggers’ vision of America.

The exhibition includes sculptures, mixed media “paintings” made on antique quilts, video, audio, a “mural” (if you choose to call a Photoshop file printed by an inkjet printer a mural), and flags, because, what would an art exhibition be without flags?

“Rockefeller Center Plaza.” Photo by the Wurts Brothers, circa 1934. Paul Manship’s “Prometheus” is in the foreground, while Lee Lawrie’s “Wisdom with Sound and Light” can be glimpsed in the background.

“Rockefeller Center Plaza.” Photo by the Wurts Brothers, circa 1934. Paul Manship’s “Prometheus” is in the foreground, while Lee Lawrie’s “Wisdom with Sound and Light” can be glimpsed in the background.

Rockefeller Center combines two building complexes, the original fourteen office buildings that were built in the 1930s in the Art Deco style, and four towers built in the 1960s and 70s in the International architecture style. American architect Raymond Hood was the chief architect. Biggers compared himself to Hood, saying “When Raymond Hood was designing this complex, he was grabbing from stories from antiquity, mythology, art, to wind up with this beautiful Art Deco monument. I wanted to reference various cultures and histories as well.”

The prodigious Raymond Hood was not “grabbing” bits from the past to “wind up” with an assemblage—that is the methodology of postmoderns like Biggers. Hood studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture, and in 1911 he graduated from the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris. His designs were meticulous, purposeful, and pragmatic, bearing Neo-Gothic or Art Deco embellishments. The mythology and art he was supposedly grabbing were the ancient Greek building blocks that Western civilization rests upon; foundations forsaken by postmodernists. Oracle is presumably the dubious stand-in for the “various cultures and histories” that Biggers mentioned.

“Chimaera fighting Bellerophon.” Ceramic cup, circa 575 BC. The black-figure style painting was created by the ancient Athenian artist today known as the “Heidelberg Painter.” Bellerophon was a hero monster slayer who captured and rode the winged horse named Pegasus.

“Chimera fighting Bellerophon.” Ceramic cup, circa 575 BC. The black-figure style painting was created by the ancient Athenian artist today known as the “Heidelberg Painter.” Bellerophon was a hero monster slayer who captured and rode the winged horse named Pegasus.

As with all of Biggers’ works at the Rockefeller Center, the Chimera sculptures are consumed by identity politics—an Afrocentric vision to be precise. So it is odd that he named his sculpture series after the Chimera of ancient Greece, a mythic fire-breathing female creature that was a hybrid of lion, goat, and snake. All of his exhibited works have the intent of dethroning “whiteness” in Western art. They are an attempt to supplant European mythos with blackness. In the language of artspeak, the artist “explores historical depictions of the body and their subsequent myths, narratives, perceptions, and power.” That is a tad more palatable than just saying “he kicks Western civilization in the teeth.”

According to Biggers the Oracle head is based on masks from various African cultures, including those created by the Luba people of the Congo, and the Maasai tribal group inhabiting parts of Kenya and Tanzania. I am left wondering, how does the king-like Oracle come to represent all of Africa? In modern Africa there are fifty-four countries—only one of them, Eswatini (Swaziland), is an absolute monarchy. The two others, Lesotho and Morocco, are constitutional monarchies. It seems Biggers is partial to the supreme power of an African king over the democratic rule of the people. In his view Oracle completes “the rest of the story” told by the classical European statues of Rockefeller Center. He says that Oracle contains “a lot of African elements.” Yet, when studying real world African art, those “African elements” appear to be dreamed up.

Biggers noted the body of Oracle was inspired by the Statue of Zeus that once sat in the Temple of Zeus in ancient Olympia, Greece. Difficult to imagine, since no accurate copies of the statue survive; the temple and its statue were destroyed long ago by earthquakes and fires. In 457 BC the sculptor Phidias created the 40-foot high chryselephantine sculpture of Zeus, King of the Olympian Gods. In this type of sculpture, gold (chrysos) depicted garments and accoutrements, while ivory (elephantinos) represented flesh. It is said Zeus was depicted with his outstretched right hand holding a statue of Nike, goddess of victory. His left hand held a scepter where an eagle perched. The statue became one of the Seven Wonders of the World. That will not be the destiny of Oracle.

Historically the Smithsonian and other art institutions have had few problems discerning persons from gods in artifacts from the ancient world. However the Smithsonian Magazine described Oracle as a “person or deity with an enormous head who sits majestically on a throne.” The statement seems confused because there is no tangible history behind Oracle, no celebrated personages, no gods, no legendary event, just a wan metaphor for black superiority. It is a mash-up where a simulacrum of ancient Greece is pitted against Biggers’ imagined “African elements,” and the winner is Wakanda, the fictional sub-Saharan country made-up by Marvel Comics.

“Seigaiha.” Sanford Biggers. 2021. Photo Daniel Greer, courtesy of Art Production Fund.

“Seigaiha.” Sanford Biggers. 2021. Photo Daniel Greer, courtesy of Art Production Fund.

Let us examine the flag series titled Seigaiha that Biggers said he created for the Rockefeller Center flagpoles. Media accounts report the blue flags display “a unique wave illustration designed by Biggers.” The artist says the flags with their wave patterns in white, are meant to represent the Middle Passage Slave Trade that brought enslaved Africans to the Americas. However, seigaiha is a Japanese word that means “blue ocean waves.” It describes a particular design element in Japanese art that consists of concentric circles symbolizing waves. It is obvious Japan had absolutely nothing to do with the Middle Passage Slave Trade, so why did Biggers bring Japanese culture into his denunciation of slavery?

"Rough Waves" pattern by artist Mariko Garcia ©

"Rough Waves" pattern by artist Mariko Garcia ©

The “unique wave illustration” was not “designed by Biggers.” It was hand drawn by New York based artist Mariko Garcia and based on the Japanese “Nami” design representing powerful, churning ocean waves. Garcia titled her drawing “Rough Waves” and made it available on merchandising sites like Adobe, Shutterstock, and Pixers.

On those platforms you will not find her design listed under “Middle Passage” or “Slave Trade.” Apparently Biggers took Garcia’s Rough Wave textile, had someone sew it up in flag form, then passed it off as his own design and claimed the turbulent waves represented the Middle Passage Slave Trade. How does this pass for significant art? Biggers’ Seigaiha flags have nothing to do with slavery, and everything to do with plagiarism.

Likely the most ridiculous thing about Biggers’ Oracle is that it is being juxtaposed to the celebrated masterworks associated with the Rockefeller Center building, particularly the works of American artists Lee Lawrie and Paul Manship. Those two virtuosos created works of irrefutable skill and artistry, and today their art continues to be enjoyed by the public at large for accomplished craft and timeless beauty. How tragic that postmodernism first obliterated, then blotted out the memory and concept of beauty in art. No one stands before an original Biggers to whisper in awe, “that is so exquisite, how did he do that?” Although some might say “why did he do that?” Poor betrodden Beauty, against her will she has been forced into a longterm hiatus.

“Atlas.” Lee Lawrie/Rene Paul Chambellan. Bronze sculpture. 1937. Photo: Michael Greene

“Atlas.” Lee Lawrie/Rene Paul Chambellan. Bronze sculpture. 1937. Photo: Michael Greene

In 1936 Lee Lawrie and fellow sculptor Rene Paul Chambellan created Atlas, a 45-foot-tall, seven-ton bronze statue for Rockefeller Center that stands outside the building at 630 5th Ave. Essentially Lawrie created sketches and models of the statue to be, and Chambellan translated them into sculptural form.

The ancient Greeks believed Zeus, King of the Gods, condemned Atlas to hold up the sky with his shoulders for eternity. Lawrie and Chambellan depicted Atlas shouldering the sky by showing him bearing an enormous armillary sphere, the astronomical tool representing the heavens used by the Greeks.

On the celestial sphere you can see the Greco-Roman planet symbols for Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

Lawrie was one of the greatest sculptors of his day. His creations include architectural sculptures on the 1926 Los Angeles Public Library, and the 1939 bas-relief bronze doors on the John Adams building of the Library of Congress, Washington DC. Those doors included twelve figures depicting gods or heroes from ancient Mexico, China, India, Mesopotamia, Greece, Persia, Germany, and North America, all associated with the advent of writing. The artworks are an example of the “diversity and inclusion” today’s radicals say are lacking in the American cultural landscape.

“Wisdom.” Lee Lawrie. Limestone sculptural relief panel. 1933. Photo: Jaime Ardiles-Arce.

“Wisdom.” Lee Lawrie. Limestone sculptural relief panel. 1933. Photo: Jaime Ardiles-Arce.

Lee Lawrie created a second tour de force for the Rockefeller Center—relief sculpture panels known as Wisdom with Sound and Light that sit over the main entrance doors.

Lawrie carved the panels from limestone and collaborated with artist and polychromist Leon V. Solon, who painted and gilded the sculptures. Solon advocated Architectural Polychromy, the decorative painting of stone buildings to make them more elegant and harmonizing. He made the following statement regarding his work:

“Color is a terrific force when introduced into an architectural combination, and is capable of producing an effect upon the observer equaled only by the fascination which firearms possess for small boys.”

The politically correct will no doubt be horrified. Perhaps they shall cancel the artworks of Lawrie and Solon.

In 1934 American artist Paul Manship created the statue titled Prometheus, seen in the lower Plaza of Rockefeller Center. His pre-Olympian Titan god of fire is an 18-foot-tall, eight-ton bronze sculpture gilded with gold. The ancient Greeks believed Prometheus created humanity from clay. It is said he stole fire from Zeus, and gifted it to humans.

“Prometheus.” Paul Manship. Gilded bronze sculpture. 1934. Photo: Will Powell.

“Prometheus.” Paul Manship. Gilded bronze sculpture. 1934. Photo: Will Powell.

Enraged by that act Zeus condemned Prometheus to eternal torment by having him bound to a rock, where an eagle would come to eat his liver. The liver grew back every night, and each morning the eagle returned to feast.

Manship depicted Prometheus clutching the stolen fire in his right hand as he falls through a gigantic ring representing the heavens. The red granite wall behind the statue is inscribed with the paraphrased words of the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus: “Prometheus, teacher in every art, brought the fire that hath proved to mortals a means to mighty ends.”

And what fire does Biggers bring? His Just Us mural on exhibit at the Rockefeller Center is a confused muddle in every sense. It is a Photoshop creation printed on an inkjet printer. It has all the gravitas of a pamphlet printed at a commercial print shop; its political message is baffling as well. During the 60s, radical civil rights activists said American justice was accessible only to white men, referring to US jurisprudence as “Just Us.” But who speaks the phrase in the Biggers mural, oppressor or oppressed? Is it a badge of honor or a victim’s fear? Why do the words hang in the heavens like an irreligious joke? Are we expected to be impressed with ambiguity? Just Us is too arcane to be a political statement, and even less noteworthy as a mural. Muralism has fallen from its once commanding position into the abyss of lowbrow kitsch, graffiti, and other postmodern inanities. That is where you find Biggers.

Biggers believes his Oracle bronze statue is a necessary companion to Lawrie’s and Manship’s bronze statues, because he imagines he has provided the missing puzzle piece of the African experience. Without naming a particular building or artwork, Biggers told the media that all throughout Rockefeller Center, “there are smaller symbols of the triangle trade and the slave trade. You see references to tobacco and cotton and sugar.” The press published his allegations without question or objection. You might think an explicit accusation that racist iconography is part of the architecture of Rockefeller Center might be cause for a journalistic investigation. Nope. Journalism is dead.

“Industries of the British Empire.” Bronze panel, Carl Paul Jennewein, 1933. Photo: Wally Gobetz

“Industries of the British Empire.” Bronze panel, Carl Paul Jennewein, 1933. Photo: Wally Gobetz

Biggers was alluding to the Rockefeller Center’s British Empire Building, designed by Raymond Hood to house British governmental and commercial offices.

In the early 1930s artist Carl Paul Jennewein created Industries of the British Empire, a huge relief panel in bronze for placement above the entrance door. The 18-foot high by 11-foot wide, blackened patina bronze panel was decorated with nine gilded allegorical figures representing the vital industries of the British Empire—Salt, Wheat, Wool, Coal, Fish, Cotton, Tobacco, and Sugar.

Eight of the laborers had tumbling gilded letters spelling out their industry placed next to them. European laborers from the British Isles, Canada, and Australia were identified with fish, coal, wool, and wheat.

Biggers might be shocked to find Jennewein identified those in his bronze panel working with sugar, tobacco, and salt, as workers from the subcontinent of India, not African slaves from the Middle Passage Slave Trade.

In 1792 the British Crown found it cheaper to produce sugar in British India than on Caribbean islands. Jennewein’s artwork showed an Indian man working with sugar cane, an Indian woman with tobacco plants, and another carrying a bag of salt. Jennewein’s artworks unintentionally exposed colonialism at work in India—but Biggers payed no attention.

“East India Sugar not made by Slaves.” Blue glass sugar bowl with gilt letters. 1820-1830. Made in Great Britain, merchandise like this was exported to anti-slavery activists in America. Photo Andreas Praefcke

“East India Sugar not made by Slaves.” Blue glass sugar bowl with gilt letters. 1820-1830. Made in Great Britain, merchandise like this was exported to anti-slavery activists in America. Photo Andreas Praefcke

He will not tell you that in 1791 British citizens by the hundreds of thousands were buying sugar from India where slavery was not used, and were spooning their Indian sugar out of abolitionist bowls inscribed with “East India Sugar not made by Slaves.” American abolitionists did likewise.

If Biggers does not understand the importance of salt in India’s Independence movement against British colonialism, he should read a few books on the subject.

Of the nine gilded allegorical figures in Jennewein’s bronze, only one portrayed an African—a woman working with cotton. Is Biggers also unaware that in the late 1800’s African cotton fed the British textile industry, and slaves from the Triangle Trade had nothing to do with it?

In Sudan the British Empire defeated Islamic fundamentalist leader Muhammad Ahmad in 1898, he claimed to be the Mahdi (“Guided One”), the deliverer and restorer of true Islam. His Mahdist army had established an Islamic State in Sudan that stretched from the Red Sea to Central Africa. After vanquishing the Mahdi and his caliphate, Sudan became a source of cotton for the growing British textile industry; it also gave access to the Nile, expanding British markets and suppliers.

Bronze figure gilded in gold representing sugar production in India. From “Industries of the British Empire” by Carl Paul Jennewein, 1933.

Bronze figure gilded in gold representing sugar production in India. From “Industries of the British Empire” by Carl Paul Jennewein, 1933.

Recall that Biggers said relief sculptures in Rockefeller Center depicted “symbols of the triangle trade and the slave trade.” But the history of colonialism and empire is complicated. During the Triangle Trade Great Britain sent trade goods such as cloth, iron goods, guns, and rum to Africa.

Many powerful African empires like the Kingdom of Benin (1440-1897), traded enormous numbers of black captives for those goods. The estimated number of captive slaves traded away by various African empires reaches as high as 20 million.

The Kingdom of Benin sold slaves to British, French, and Portuguese merchants for over 200 years. The slaves were shipped to the West Indies and the Americas. From England’s 13 Colonies, rum, iron ore, timber, furs, rice, indigo dye, and other goods were shipped to Great Britain, beginning the process anew.

Nothing I write here denies the ugly blot of the Middle Passage Slave Trade and the inhuman treatment of African people at the hands of slave traders. The empires of Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Belgium, and Spain mercilessly partitioned and exploited Africa. However, the Transatlantic Slave Trade would have been impossible without the partnership of slave trading African empires, who enslaved fellow Africans for material gain.

If an artist is going to confront the monstrous history of slavery, then fabrication and calumny are not the colors to paint with. It should also be remembered that France abolished slavery in 1794, Great Britain did so in 1833, and on December 6, 1865, slavery was ended in the United States—and the cost was the death of some 365,000 Union soldiers. Modern day slavery continues to exist in the world today, but “progressive” artists have very little to say about it.

What does Mr. Biggers say about the nation of Mauritania, also known as the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, where the “peculiar institution” bleeds into the present. Historically Arab Mauritanians enslaved the Haratin black Mauritanians. Mauritania gained independence from France in 1960, yet did not end slavery until 1981; it was the last country on earth to abolish slavery. According to the BBC it did not criminalize slavery until 2015. In 2017 the BBC reported 600,000 Mauritanians were held in human bondage. Despite all of that Mauritania was allowed to join the UN Human Rights Council in 2020!

So, where are the paintings, videos, audio recordings, murals, flags, and statues by Biggers exposing modern day chattel slavery in Mauritania? It is so much easier to bash Western Civilization for the umpteenth time, while giving an encore recitation on the crimes of “whiteness.”

Biggers’ racialist politics are barely camouflaged by postmodern aesthetics and artspeak; he stands with those who want to “decolonize” the art institutions of the Western world. They are convinced American and European Classical art are linked to white supremacy and its “colonial project.” A writer at the leftist art periodical Hyperallergic succinctly made the point: “America’s encyclopedic museums originated from worldviews not that different from those of today’s white supremacists and nationalists.” Another frenzied dilettanti from the same journal proposed the abolition of museums because they deploy violence “against black bodies, brown bodies, gender non-conforming bodies, colonized bodies, queer bodies, immigrant bodies, disabled bodies, poor bodies, as well as violence against the cultures that these bodies create and move through.”

I am horrified that a layer of contemporary leftists are arguing for the abolishment of museums in Europe and America. They insist museums be “reimagined” (I have come to loath that word), because they think those institutions are “at war” with people of color. That canard has a familiar ring, it reminds me of the Khmer Rouge communists who seized Cambodia in 1975. They declared they would “abolish, uproot, and disperse the cultural, literary, and artistic remnants of the imperialists, colonialists, and all of the other oppressor classes. This will be implemented strongly, deeply and continuously.” [¹] The Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot called the reign of terror “Year Zero.” And so they “reimagined” Cambodia by smashing every vestige of bourgeois society, art, culture, religion, and old traditions. Those “corrupted by imperialistic ideas,” and there were some 1.3 million of them—were executed. It was Pol Pot’s “Great Reset.”

Biggers and his art world allies want you to believe there has been a failure to “understand” classical European art as a “white-washed” history where people of color have been ignored. The decolonize art crowd maintains that classical European sculptures of white marble were once painted in bright colors, true—if speaking of the marble and bronze sculptures of ancient Greece and Rome, but that hardly encompasses the total output of Europe’s classical sculptures. Some insist the Renaissance aesthetic was a “mistake”! Roman statues unearthed in the 15th century were stripped of color by time and the elements, so artists of that period mistakenly deduced the statues had always been white. From the racialist view it follows that from then on, creating white marble statues was only “normalizing whiteness.”

Renaissance artists had good reason to sculpt from white Carrara marble, mined in Italy since the days of ancient Rome—it had nothing to do with race. Freshly quarried Carrara marble is generally soft and easy to carve, it possesses minimal veining which makes the surface consistent, it has a fine grain that captures detail, and it can be polished to extraordinary effect. Most important of all, white Carrara marble has a certain translucency, making it perfect for modeling the human form. Michelangelo (1475–1564) used Carrara marble to carved his Pietà and David masterworks. Renaissance artists made an aesthetic leap by introducing a natural, realistic treatment of subjects, infusing them with emotive power. Form, texture, the play of light across marble, was thought essential. The idea of painting such statues was unthinkable.

“John Brown.” Edmonia Lewis. Plaster. 1876

“John Brown.” Edmonia Lewis. Plaster. 1876

Biggers and the coterie around him will likely never mention Edmonia Lewis (1844-1907). She was the first African American sculptor to gain national and international recognition for her sculptures.

She studied sculpture in Boston, where she met abolitionists like John Brown and Colonel Robert Gould Shaw—commander of the Union Army’s 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment composed of free black men.

She created portrait busts of John Brown and Colonel Shaw after their deaths. Brown was hanged for treason on Dec. 2, 1859 for his raid on the Harpers Ferry federal armory. The US Civil War began on April, 12, 1861, and Lewis created her plaster sculpture of Brown in 1864. A year later the American Civil War ended on May 9, 1865.

On July 18, 1863 Colonel Shaw and the men of the 54th, attacked Confederate held Fort Wagner in South Carolina. They were cut to ribbons by fire from the 1,700 Confederates in the fortress. Of the six hundred soldiers in the 54th, 250 were killed or wounded.

“Colonel Robert Gould Shaw.” Edmonia Lewis. White Carrara marble. 1864

“Colonel Robert Gould Shaw.” Edmonia Lewis. White Carrara marble. 1864

Colonel Robert Gould Shaw was killed on the ramparts while fighting in hand to hand combat. At the bottom of her marble portrait of Colonel Shaw, where the bust meets its pedestal, Edmonia Lewis carved the words, “Martyr For Freedom.”

A surviving member of the 54th, William Harvey Carney, received the Medal of Honor for his gallantry. He carried the American flag into combat and planted it on the parapets. When the Rebels forced the 54th to retreat under fire, he brought the flag back with him despite being shot four times. Carney never let the American flag touch the ground.

Lewis’ portrait bust of Colonel Shaw was purchased by the Shaw family, who gave the artist permission to make plaster replicas of the bust to help advance the Union cause; Lewis created and sold 100 of these for five dollars each.

On a related note, the American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848–1907), created the bronze Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth Regiment that sits at the edge of Boston Common in Massachusetts. At a Black Lives Matter protest on May 31, 2020, the monument was vandalized with giant spray-painted red and black graffiti that read; “RIP George Floyd,” “All Cops Are Bastards,” “BLM,” and “FUCK 12” (twelve being a reference to police). Who shall tell the spirits of the 54th that Black Lives Matter defiled their monument?

Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth Regiment, defaced with BLM graffiti, May 31, 2020. Source: Twitter

Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth Regiment, defaced with BLM graffiti, May 31, 2020. Source: Twitter

I am unsure if Sanford Biggers is exhibiting his 2017 artwork titled Overstood at the Rockefeller Center, but it is worth mentioning to fully understand his body of work. Wrapped in his “African cultural perspective” cloak, Biggers uses the Jamaican patois word “overstand” to replace “understand” in the title. The artist described his work with the following:

“Inspired by a photo of a 1968 Black Panther Party protest and emanating from hand carved power objects on the floor, four larger than life elders look down on centuries of systemic disenfranchisement, pathological extrajudicial practices of the US government towards Black Americans, and the culture that allows these to persist. They witness, stand over and “overstand” that change must come.”

“Overstood.” Sanford Biggers. Sequins, canvas, fabric, tar, glitter, polystyrene, Aquaresin. 2017

“Overstood.” Sanford Biggers. Sequins, canvas, fabric, tar, glitter, polystyrene, Aquaresin. 2017

There are a number of problems with the artwork and its statement. Biggers did not credit Associated Press photographer Ernest K. Bennet for the photo of Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale and his militant comrades; who were not all Panthers.

It can be argued that not crediting Bennet is plagiarism, as with Biggers’ Seigaiha flags. Some will say fair use laws allow for such artistic practice, but I contend it simply shows Biggers has no talent or aptitude for drawing.

You might think an artist is expected to show a genius for the delineation of form by way of line, shading, and tone, but the art establishment of today insists drawing is passé, unless talking about meaningless scrawls and scratches.

The real headache regarding Overstood is its misrepresentation of the Black Panther Party and the artist’s cultural nationalist political baggage. Which brings me to the “hand carved power objects” Biggers has his “Panthers” springing from.

Plainly speaking the Panthers were not practitioners of religion, African or otherwise; they were adherents of Marxian dialectical materialism, not African spiritualism. Yet Biggers shows them, not only as creations of African spirits who have conjured them up, but as supernatural beings in some ethereal African afterworld. Clearly, Biggers is far-removed from the thoughts of Panther leader Huey P. Newton, and in alignment with the black supremacist cultural nationalism of Maulana Karenga. To understand the quandary lets review some historic facts.

Photo of Black Panther Party chairman Bobby Seale (right center) with fellow militants in Oakland, California. Photographer Ernest K. Bennett took the photo on Nov. 21, 1968. Sanford Biggers used Bennett’s uncredited photo to create “Overstood.”

Photo of Black Panther Party chairman Bobby Seale (right center) with fellow militants in Oakland, California. Photographer Ernest K. Bennett took the photo on Nov. 21, 1968. Sanford Biggers used Bennett’s uncredited photo to create “Overstood.”

The Black Panther Party (BPP) embraced revolutionary socialism and defined itself as the “vanguard of the revolution.” It held political education classes where party members were required to read and understand works like: The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon, The Last Stage of Imperialism and Class Struggle in Africa by Kwame Nkrumah, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Black Bourgeoisie by E. Franklin FrazierThe Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx, and Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung.

The Panthers expressed solidarity with socialist Algeria, and the communist regimes of China, Cuba, North Vietnam, and North Korea. The BPP was not a black supremacist organization, it sought working relationships with all races. In 1968 its Minister of Information, Eldridge Cleaver, ran for president on the California Peace and Freedom Party.

“Eldridge Cleaver For President.” Presidential campaign poster for Black Panther Party Minister of Information, Eldridge Cleaver. He ran for President on the Peace & Freedom Party ticket in 1968. Artist unknown.

“Eldridge Cleaver For President.” Presidential campaign poster for Black Panther Party Minister of Information, Eldridge Cleaver. He ran for President on the Peace & Freedom Party ticket in 1968. Artist unknown.

The Panthers opposed the cultural nationalists of the US Organization, founded in 1965 by Ron Everett, who took the Swahili name of Maulana (master teacher) Karenga (keeper of the tradition). Karenga wanted no alliances with whites, insisting that a cultural return to Africa would restore black identity and bring deliverance to American blacks.

Followers wore African clothes, spoke Swahili, and gave themselves African names. In 1966 Karenga invented an African harvest festival he called Kwanzaa. His objective was to “give blacks an alternative to the existing holiday of Christmas and give blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society.”

Karenga elaborated, “You must have a cultural revolution before the violent revolution. The cultural revolution gives identity, purpose, and direction.” U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris claims to celebrate Kwanzaa.

The leadership of the Black Panther Party, including Bobby Seale, referred to Karenga’s politics as “pork chop nationalism.” In a 1968 interview with The Movement publication of the Students for a Democratic Society, Newton described Karenga’s cultural nationalism as “reactionary” and “the wrong political perspective.” At the UCLA campus on Jan. 17, 1969, members of Karenga’s US shot and killed Black Panthers Bunchy Carter and John Huggins, because they ridiculed Maulana Karenga. Did the elders witness, stand over and “overstand” that act of political assassination?

One last comment on Biggers plagiarizing Bennet’s Nov. 21, 1968 photo. On that date Eldridge Cleaver delivered a speech at San Francisco’s California Hall. It was sponsored by his defense committee. It is somewhat likely Bobby Seale and his comrades were photographed at that event. Cleaver had been charged with attempted murder for an April 1968 shoot out with Oakland police where Panther Bobby Hutton was killed and two officers wounded. Sometime after his address Cleaver jumped bail to avoid imprisonment. He fled to Cuba, then to socialist Algeria, where the National Liberation Front had just won independence from France in 1962.

Some have implied Seale and fellow militants were photographed at the Third World Liberation Front student strike at San Francisco State College (Nov. 1968 to March 1969). Not likely, since Nov. 21st was not significant to the student action, despite two firebrands from the strike, Ben Stewart and George Murray being in the picture. Bennet’s photo is a conundrum. Cleaver’s speech and the student strike both happened in San Francisco, but the photo credit says it was taken in Oakland—across from the San Francisco Bay. There is no certainty regarding the event and location captured in the photo; it seems a detail lost to history. The only certitude is that Biggers concocted a narrative that he attached to a misappropriated historic photograph.

In conclusion, ever since Marcel Duchamp exhibited a porcelain urinal in 1917, artists have been subverting traditional sculpture. So, are the artists of today still yearning for the overthrow of classical sculpture? How is that even possible? What is left of traditional sculpture in the present day? How can the art of Sanford Biggers be considered “subversive” when it is embraced by galleries and museums, praised by art critics, and sanctioned by ruling class institutions?

Postmodern conceptual art, performance art, and installation art, rule the roost in present-day art institutions; that sphere supports Biggers. Traditional realist sculpture, painting and drawing is no longer spoken of in contemporary art magazines. It is shoved aside at art fairs and trendy galleries—one might find it cobwebbed in the basements of a few museums. It is not hyperbole to say realism has gone underground. It is time for a complete reversal of the situation.

As for the Rockefeller family and their namesake, the Rockefeller Center, there has been, shall we say, a rather prickly liaison with the art world over the years. I am certain Biggers does not know that during the Cold War of the early 1950s, the Central Intelligence Agency secretly worked with Nelson Rockefeller and other highfalutin members of the art world—including artists, to establish the dominance of American abstract art over the “Socialist Realism” of the Soviet Union. Yes, they even weaponized art. And today? Perhaps Biggers should do some reading on the topic.

So again the question, what is left of traditional art and sculpture? Not much, and regrettably artists like Sanford Biggers hope to fill the void. If toppling monuments to historic American figures and events subverts the mythos of the United States, then what mythology will supersede them? Mr. Biggers and his backers think they have the answer. Still I wonder. Instead of incessantly rubbing our noses in horrid things, why not create beauteous works of art, breathtaking works that uplift and unite people.

Would that be so difficult?


The Sanford Biggers exhibit at the Rockefeller Center, ran from May 5 to June 29, 2021.


1. George Chigas and Dmitri Mosyakov, Literacy and Education under the Khmer Rouge. The Cambodian Genocide Program, Yale University.