A digital exhibition hosted last month by Winston Wächter Fine Art, a gallery with outposts in Manhattan and Seattle, prompted allegations of white saviorism and the exploitation of black trauma for profit.
The exhibition no more blood comprised a series of photographs by Meghan Boody, a white artist, showing black people affected by gun violence in New Orleans. Boody’s digitally altered photographs show residents of New Orleans’ 8th Ward with pools of blood at their feet and shrouded in a blue mist, presumably gun smoke. The characters appear in settings stereotypically associated with the city: under a live oak tree, in a swamp, and among the graves of a raised burial cemetery. Hyperallergic has made an editorial decision not to reproduce the images.
Boody’s images were originally produced in 2014 to promote a gun buyback program in the Eighth Ward, and Winston Wächter Fine Art says they were taken “with the collaboration and full support of the New Orleans community.”
“Meghan was asked by the organizers and community leaders to take pictures of gun violence affected community members for billboards promoting the event,” Christine Wächter, owner of Winston Wächter Fine Art, told Hyperallergic in an email.
But when the photos resurfaced in a different context – a for-profit exhibition – nearly eight years later, some social media users raised concerns. The price of the works ranged from $7,500 to $10,000.
In anticipation of the opening of the digital exhibition, Winston Wächter Fine Art shared an Instagram post announcing the work. After critical comments surfaced, the gallery added more information to the caption to further explain the photos, eventually removing the post altogether. Screenshots of the since-deleted post show the statement added by the gallery: “Through the lens of a camera, Meghan Boody began paying homage to victims of gun violence by capturing their portraits in scenes authentic to New Orleans culture and community. Boody hails from Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
The screenshots also show some users’ confusion and dismay at the images. “White saviorism and exploitation of black bodies for white profit,” read a comment from user @keshabruce.
Other comments asked questions directly for the gallery: “Why didn’t you choose to highlight the work of a Black artist?” asked @journal.as.altar.
“Where does the proceeds from the sale of the photographs go?” asked @liztranstudios.
In her statement to Hyperallergic, Christine Wächter said: “The gallery fully supports Meghan Boody as an artist, but understands as it is known today that this particular project raises many sensitive issues that are and should be at the forefront of social justice conversations. The gallery hopes to continue a productive and healthy dialogue about the work.” Boody could not be reached for comment.
no more blood was created as part of a project for Prospect.3: Notes for now, the 2014 edition of the New Orleans Triennial. The photographs were used as promotional posters for an interactive art installation staged by curator and artist Kirsha Kaechele in October 2014, which consisted of a one-day gun buyback in the Eighth Precinct where people could turn in guns for cash. Kaechele lived on the eighth ward for 10 years and told that Huffington Post in an article about their project: “The trick is to buy guns. It’s the ritual, a performance piece.”
The billboards, also featured in Winston Wächter’s digital exhibit, contained Boody’s photographs and advertised the date and time of the buyback. It’s unclear how many firearms were actually repurchased, but the program offered owners $75 for a working handgun, $150 for a working rifle, and $250 for working assault rifles and semi-automatic and full-automatic rifles. Descriptions of the project cite collaborations between local artists, dancers and rappers.
In 2014, Boody’s gun buyback project and photographs did not seem to draw criticism. Kaechele – who is also white – told that Huffington Post that their hope was to “inspire young men in the 8th Precinct and surrounding neighborhoods… to swap killing for creativity.”
“Through the relationships they’ve developed, they decide they can move beyond the paradigm of gangsters and guns,” Kaechele added.
Kaechele and Prospect did not respond to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.
The phenomenon known as “white saviorism,” rooted in an imperialist concept historically used to justify colonialism and enslavement, has been cited time and time again. A viral TikTok posted by @benchutta in March shows the problem: a group of white tourists photographing children of color abroad. “Please don’t do this when you travel to Africa,” reads an on-screen text.
To some, Boody’s photographs now appear to be a relic of the way certain ideas were conceived and discussed eight years ago, particularly in light of white people’s individual efforts to combat systemic issues such as racism and injustice. In the words of one commenter, “Very confused here.”