V.L. Cox, “End Hate” 2015. All images courtesy of the artist.
When Arkansas House Bill 1228, also known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed the state's 90th General Assembly, the protests were immediate. The law's stated aim, increasing religious freedom, was seen by many minority groups as a way to allow for discrimination based on race, gender, and sexual orientation, and to do so in the name of God. The passage of the bill inspired Arkansas born artist V.L. Cox to create End Hate, a door installation inspired by the once ubiquitous Jim Crow-era "Whites"- and "Colored"-only signs. Cox's wooden doors, all unhinged and freestanding, updated the symbol of segregation to include other groups, including immigrants, homeless people, LGBT folkx, veterans, and women, that the bill's opponents felt would be marginalized by its passage.
"For a quarter of a century I have been telling the story of the South through my work, but until [Arkansas] House Bill 1228, a cruel and very poorly written Religious Freedom Restoration Act, made it out of committee early 2015, I realized that I wasn't telling all of it," explains Cox to Creators. "This cruel and reckless bill would have taken our state back to Jim Crow days. This time, however, it would have expanded to not only race, but gender, sexual orientation, and even different religions or beliefs with no guidelines to protect the most vulnerable and innocent in our society," says Cox, who had seen a discriminatory sign used in her hometown during the uproar over the bill. It inspired her to use the door as a reminder of the state's shameful past. "It was a dangerous unjust bill," says the artist, "that needed to be stopped."
The End Hate installation features a series of weathered, monochrome doors with large signs painted on them that read in bold lettering: "WHITES ONLY," "COLORED ONLY," "LGBTQ ONLY," "IMMIGRANTS ONLY," "HOMELESS ONLY," "WOMEN ONLY," and "VETERANS ONLY." The message, a simple one, is that the bill would separate communities and foster hate among them. The final door in Cox's installation reads, "HUMAN BEING," in 24 karat Tibetan prayer gold lettering. The door is wrapped in chains, which, for the artist, represent the "precious status being denied." "This powerful body of work evokes a visceral message that reaches beyond today's digital world, challenges the divisiveness of uncertainty, and change and breaks down the barriers of hatred and fear by reminding the viewer that civil rights are human rights and they belong to everyone," says Cox. "Despite all our differences such as cultural, religious, economic, racial, or gender, I know we can choose a peaceful path of tolerance and justice instead of mistrust, repression, and hatred."
Cox placed the End Hate doors on the steps of the Arkansas legislature and they helped to encourage further scrutiny of HB 1228, which did not pass on its initial form. A revised version of the bill, however, was signed into law as Act 975 by the state's current governor, Republican Asa Hutchinson. The passage of a less-discriminatory bill has not stopped Cox from continuing to use the public work to help end hate. "Having this powerful body of work visually available to large numbers of the general public has been extremely important," says Cox, who has installed End Hate on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. "I don't care who you are, these subjects involve all of us as a society and in a world where we can't remember what we had for lunch yesterday, uncomfortable social and historical events are often too quickly pushed and filed away in the recesses of our busy minds and forgotten," says the artist. "Now more than ever we need to be reminded of the dangers of unjust inequality and separation in our country. We must remember where we've been before, and, as a nation, where we cannot ever allow ourselves to go again."
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