A hooded sculpture, standing at 9 feet tall, towered over its onlookers during Social Justice Week at the University of Miami. The UM community experienced mixed reactions of grief, shock and an intense desire for justice in response to the iconic art form.
Social Justice Week, which ran from Jan. 28 to Feb. 1, began and ended with an art installation in the Whitten University Center composed by Bill Grace Lynn, a University of Miami associate professor of sculpture in the Department of Art and Art History. The sculpture confronted the preconceived notions made about black males who wear hoodies.
“The main inspiration for my piece arose after the death of Trayvon Martin, and I was utterly horrified by what had happened to him,” Lynn said. “I believe that the hooded sweatshirt that he was wearing seems to be a part of the reason why he was targeted and racially profiled. The hoodie became this potent symbol and object of what can happen to a young person of color.”
Members of UM’s community were able to use a paint marker and write directly on the hoodie about their perspectives surrounding racial profiling, prejudice and many other social issues present today.
Khaila Prather, a senior majoring in public health, was one of many students who chose to write her own response on the hoodie.
“I wrote ‘choose love over hate’ because people should treat one another with love and kindness. People should be raised to always give love first and not to hate anyone based on their appearance, beliefs or culture,” Prather said.
DeAndre Athias, a freshman majoring in health science, said he saw pictures and videos of the hoodie on a lot of social media accounts from UM students and wanted to check it out in person. As a black male in a majority white university, he said he feels that by writing his thoughts onto the sculpture, it would give black people a voice to speak out against discrimination and racism.
“I wrote ‘We Are Kings and Queens’ because I feel like, as a society, much of the black race feels unloved and rejected due to our complexion,” Athias said. “So by writing on this hoodie, I want my fellow black men and women to know that we are better than how society and the stereotypes portray us out to be.”
Other students, like Sasha Baranov, a senior majoring in Political Science and International Studies, did not feel comfortable expressing their thoughts on the sculpture.
“I chose not to write on the hoodie because I feel like it’s still not my place,” Baranov said. “Being a white male, I feel like there’s almost nothing I could say that could atone for the acts committed by my race. Instead of writing something, I feel that the only thing that I can do is actually try to go out there and tell people of all backgrounds that we can make a difference by being vocal and civically engaged.”
The hoodie sculpture is the first stage of Lynn’s complete “Hoodie Project,” which will showcase a 24-foot black hoodie sculpture at the Lowe Art Museum this summer. Lynn will also include voice recordings by individuals who have faced discrimination or racism as a whole. People will be able to walk inside of the sculpture and hear each story.
“The main question I want to invoke when people look at the hoodie is for them to ask themselves: Am I holding stereotypical racist ideas about people of color, especially if they are wearing certain types of clothing? I want people to examine their characters and look at race and discrimination from a different perspective,” Lynn said.