SAN FRANCISCO – Lori Haigh, owner of Capobianco Gallery in North Beach here, was spat on and knocked unconscious last week for exhibiting an artwork highlighting the torture of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison.
The assault came after two weeks of escalating threats. Now that painting may end up displayed at San Francisco City Hall.
San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin June 8 introduced a resolution to hang the painting, titled “The Abuse,” in City Hall and to condemn the attacks against Haigh. Peskin told the San Francisco Chronicle that displaying the art work would send a message to residents that elected officials won’t tolerate efforts to stifle political dissent.
“The Abuse” depicts three U.S. soldiers leering at a group of naked men in hoods with wires connected to their bodies. The one in the foreground has a blood-spattered American flag patch on his uniform. In the background, a soldier in sunglasses guards a blindfolded woman.
The artist Guy Colwell, whose picture was a late addition to a month-long exhibit of his work at the gallery, is known for his social realist style, comic books, and antiwar activism in the San Francisco area. He was jailed for two years in 1968 for opposing the Vietnam War.
Within days of putting Colwell’s painting in a front window, Haigh came to work to find the gallery’s entrance trashed with garbage, eggs and broken glass. Her business answering machine filled up with threats and slurs. She was called “un-American.”
On June 5 local artists and writers staged a protest outside the gallery, denouncing the attack and the threats against the gallery as an assault on freedom of expression.