The artist behind the Elgin mural that depicts a portion of a famous photo of a 1930 lynching of two black men in Indiana said the piece was intended to get people to ask questions, think about issues and consider their own place in history.
“The idea here was talking about lynching, asking questions, the history,” artist David Powers said.
“You don’t want to be on that wall with these monsters. Anywhere. In any town,” Powers said. “You don’t want to be on this wall murdering someone because you don’t like them.”
The 66-year-old Elgin artist said he has been pushing boundaries since he began creating art. He said his family has always believed in standing up for the little guy, the immigrant, and people of all races.
When social media users began calling for removal of his mural, “American Nocturne” from a downtown Elgin park, Powers was infuriated and talked about the lynching.
“These were vigilantes, criminals, who murdered people in the streets. I find it abhorrent and awful,” he said.
But if people are not reminded of these crimes, if it is not addressed in our art and in our civil discussions, it can happen again, Powers said.
When one group is afraid of the other, if they don’t ask questions and find answers, fear wins, he said.
OK, I guess? But I don’t think you can just paint the famous picture of a lynching, minus the lynched people, and then walk away. I do think the people of Elgin need to confront their past. I’m not entirely sure this is the most productive way to accomplish that. It is racist? Probably not, if the artist says so. Does such a depiction need to be both accompanied by an explanatory sign and part of a community process that includes discussion and education? Yes, definitely.
The original lynching photo is at the link if you want to look at it.