Artist Alexandra Bell channels her critiques of the discriminatory bias she finds in The New York Times’ headlines into poignant art. She discussed her public art series “Counternarratives” in a new profile published by The Times yesterday (December 7).
Her installations, which first emerged on buildings and subway station walls in Brooklyn last year, feature blown-up panels from print issues of The Times with examples of bias marked in black and red ink. The first work in the series, “A Teenager with Promise,” displays side-by-side profiles of Michael Brown and Darren Wilson under the shared headline, “Two Lives at Crossroads in Ferguson.” Bell crossed out “Two Lives at,” as well as all parts of both profiles that did not explicitly reference Wilson killing the unarmed Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The piece juxtaposes that edit with another 2014 print page that shows Brown in graduation robes under a headline, “A Teenager With Promise,” which originally read, “A Teenager Who Was Grappling With Problems and Promise.”
“The effort to make these two people just two regular people went too far,” Bell told The Times. “You have a child and you have an agent of the state. They weren’t two homies in the hood and things didn’t work out, as the original headline, ‘Two Lives at Crossroads in Ferguson,’ implies.”
Another work in the series highlights how a sports story on American swimmer Ryan Lochte lying about being robbed during the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro inexplicably used a photo of Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt as its lead image:
“I choose a story because there’s been some kind of violation to me,” Bell explained. “It’s imperative to show how a turn of phrase or a misplaced photo has real consequences for people at the margins who are still suffering under the weight of unfair and biased representation.”