- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 29, 2004

GETTYSBURG, Pa. — The Confederate flag as interpreted by artist John Sims is pink and purple, hung by a noose or colored in the red, black and green of black nationalism.

But it is the Florida man’s plan to hold a mock lynching of a Confederate flag when his exhibition opens at a Gettysburg College art gallery later this week that has triggered a campaign to cancel the show.

Mr. Sims describes his work as an examination of the power of symbols. In his case, passion about the flag has generated dozens of e-mail and phone complaints to the school, the borough and the artist himself.

Some have been signed and angry, others anonymous and threatening. Their biggest issue is the mock hanging he plans on a 13-foot-high gallows outside Schmucker Art Gallery.

“Things like, I’m the one who should be hanging — stuff like that,” said the 36-year-old artist and teacher.

Web sites devoted to the flag are buzzing with outrage, and the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans obtained permission for a protest vigil on national park property that borders the campus.

The fervor is in full force, but “Recoloration Proclamation: The Gettysburg Redress” doesn’t open until Friday. Besides the flags, the show also will include jazz-style alternative recordings of “Dixie,” Mr. Sims’ rewriting of the Gettysburg Address and a speech on nationalism and dissent in contemporary art by Harvard University professor Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw.

“The point of the exhibit is, the flag has taken on a set of meanings, that the artist is concerned with the contemporary state of the Confederate flag as a symbol,” said gallery director Molly S. Hutton. “The nature of exhibition is, it’s controversial — we expected some controversy.”

The backlash over Mr. Sims’ work already has led to a security planning meeting between the college president and borough officials.

“We haven’t had any open threats of any kind, but we feel that we have to be prepared,” Mayor William E. Troxell said.

Jim Palmisano, commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans group in Gettysburg, said he wishes the school would cancel the exhibition, calling the mock lynching tasteless and insulting.

“I can’t think of a more offensive thing that he could do,” said Mr. Palmisano. He estimated that 80 to 100 people will attend the vigil to voice their displeasure.

Mr. Sims, a black man who once displayed one of his colorized Confederate flags at a Ku Klux Klan rally in Florida, called Gettysburg “the perfect place” to present a project he describes as “a battle of symbols.”

“What’s the line between symbols that can be healthy and symbols that can be toxic?”

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