Press Release
September 27, 2001

Major Los Angeles Art Show Cancelled by L.A. City Cultural Affairs Department Under Threat of Community Violence in Watts

Los Angeles, CA – The Los Angeles City Cultural Affairs Department (LACAD) has cancelled the new exhibition "WAR " by renowned Latino L.A.-based artist Alex Donis, which was due to open this Sunday, September 23, 2001 at the Watts Towers Arts Center and run for two months as part of the official re-opening festivities for the newly-refurbished Watts Towers. The show, which is comprised of a painting series of fictionalized pairings of LAPD officers and gang members in same-sex dancing poses, was threatened with protest and possible violent action by members of the Watts community this week, prompting Cultural Affairs Department General Manager, Margie Reese, to cancel the exhibition, which was also due to feature companion text from renowned African-American poet and performance artist, Keith Antar Mason. The Re-Opening ceremony for the Watts Towers is Friday, September 28, 2001 at 7:30pm. The Day of the Drum is Saturday September, 29 and the Jazz Festival is Sunday September, 30 from 10:am to 6:pm.

"I’m in disbelief that this exhibition that’s taken so much time and collaborative effort is being censored and shut down, and that this message of actual peace and tolerance is getting lost in reactionary attitudes towards the paintings," says Donis.

The Watts Towers Community Action Council, a locally-based community group, led the charge against the exhibition. Members of the organization have voiced their opposition and antagonism towards the work and even threatened to worsen relations between the Watts Towers Arts Center and the Watts community unless the work came down immediately. In discussions with both Watts Towers Arts Center Director, Mark Greenfield, who curated the show, as well as LACAD General Manager Margie Reese, representatives of the group threatened an angry protest during the opening reception on Sunday, originally scheduled from 2-5pm, and stated that violent actions might occur, such as angry residents attacking the artwork itself or perhaps even individuals.

"I am outraged and equally saddened that people want to do this," continues Donis. "This exhibition is site-specific. I’m not taunting or ridiculing anyone. My work for many years has been to understand hatred in society and how, as an artist, to dissolve it by bridging vast social divides. This is something I thought I had succeeded at via this exhibition. Yet these pictures, these ideas, are being censored. My rights and my freedom of expression are under attack."

Donis is also concerned that the cancellation of the exhibition may also have been racially motivated. "As a Latino artist who has spent so many years teaching in the Watts community, I am deeply saddened that the issue of my not being African American could be one of the reasons for this censorship."

The National Coalition Against Censorship believes that the WTAC "would be better served if elders in the Community Action Council bring violent impulses under control and advocate dialog rather than using the threat of violence as a way to intimidate its arts center," says Svetlana Mintcheva, Arts Advocacy Project Coordinator.

Alex Donis has exhibited his paintings and installation works internationally in Mexico City, Syndey, Australia, Paris, France, Pretoria, South Africa and galleries and museums throughout the U.S. His work was recently featured in the landmark exhibition, "Made in California: Art, Image and Identity, 1900-2000," at the LA County Museum. Donis has exhibited at the Armand Hammer Museum and LACE and recently received the Durfee Foundation ARC Award in support of the "WAR" exhibition. Donis is also an Artist-in-Residence at 18th Street Arts Complex in Santa Monica and an arts educator at Crossroads School He has also taught at the Getty Center and the Watts Towers Arts Center.