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Artist speaks out about city of Richmond censoring work about Trump

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Christy Chan’s ‘Inside Out’ redacted by city government

Courtesy of Inside Out / Christy Chan

For five days starting on August 21, Oakland-based artist Christy Chan projected messages from local residents onto the side of Richmond City Hall, ranging from personal (‘Dad, I forgive you for keeping secrets’) to inspirational (‘We are all humans capable of love’).” But the artist says that, at the last minute, representatives from the city told her that the public display had to excise any mention of President Donald Trump.

Chan collected over 1,100 submissions in a single month, ranging from concerns about the environment to commentary on immigration, she says on the site for her piece, titled Inside Out. “I selected a representative section of about one hundred of these statements for public projection on the wall of the Richmond Civic Center, who had invested in the project as part of their Neighborhood Public Art Grant program.”

Of the 1,100 messages submitted, Chan says 40 were critical comments about Trump. A few days before Inside Out went live, a Richmond staffer warned Chan not to use any material critical of Trump “by name.”

Instead, the artist substituted a message informing the public that city officials barred her from using any comments critical of the president.

Richmond City Hall, a six-story red-brick building, with a message projected onto the side reading in part, “The city has banned phrases that criticize the president.” Via Christy Chan

“I did my best within the confines placed on my work,” Chan writes, adding, “it’s important that you know those voices existed.”

One such message reads, “Trump, te perdono por ser racista”—“Trump, I forgive you for being racist.”

An arts and culture manager for Richmond told KQED that the censorship stemmed from uncertainty about the rules governing political messages on public buildings and worries that the White House might retaliate against the city.

Richmond, like San Francisco, is a sanctuary city, something the president has been critical of in recent years.

Chan describes herself as “an interdisciplinary artist based in Oakland and working primarily in video, installation, performance and oral storytelling.”

[Correction: Though Chan’s autobiographical statement says she’s based in Oakland, she tells Curbed SF she now lives in Richmond.]

Her past works included 2015’s How To Read, in which Chan read famous American novels aloud and backwards, “using the traditional Chinese style of reading from back to front, and up and down instead of horizontally,” and 2017’s The Nature Channel, which featured footage of a creek bed “captured just after a record rainfall in California following a five year drought.”

Richmond’s grant program offered artists sums ranging from $500 to $8,000 for the 2018-2019 funding cycle.