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Related Categories: San Francisco | Arts + Action
by CA
Saturday May 29th, 2004 8:17 AM
This morning, Saturday, May 29, starting at 10 a.m. come and show your support for free speech at Capobianco Gallery, 1841 Powell Street in San Francisco. People will be gathering to show support for Gallery owner Lori Haigh who has received numerous death threats to herself and her children for displaying a controversial painting depicting American soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners. The gallery owner has decided to close because she felt that there are not enough people in the community coming out to support her. Today at 10 am Guy Colwell, the artist who painted the controversial painting, is due to pick up his art. LET'S SHOW THE ARTIST AND LORI THAT PEOPLE CARE ABOUT THEM AND FREE SPEECH!
Last straw for art gallery

Threats and attacks over Iraq painting force owner out.

By J.K. Dineen | Staff Writer
Published on Wednesday, May 26, 2004
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A North Beach art gallery owner who has been attacked and threatened for showing a controversial painting of American soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners has decided to call it quits.

After having her life repeatedly threatened, her business egged and her face spat upon, Lori Haigh papered up the windows of her Powell Street gallery, Capobianco, on Tuesday.

"I'm totally disheartened by this -- this was my dream," Haigh said. "I felt like this was a legacy I could leave my children; that we had a gallery in North Beach."

The painting, titled "The Abuse" by East Bay artist Guy Colwell, shows Pfc. Lynndie England and another soldier smiling gleefully as they look upon a trio of naked, hooded Iraqi prisoners who are hooked up to electrical wires. In the background, a third American soldier is escorting a Muslim woman in a dress into the torture chamber.

The painting is black and white, except for American flag patches on the soldiers' uniforms, which appear to be splattered with blood.

A week ago, Haigh realized the nerve the painting had struck when she arrived at work to find the place egged and heaps of trash dumped at the gallery entrance. On her computer and voice mail were stinging messages calling her anti-American for showing the artwork.

Even after she took the painting out of the front window, she received six threats against her life. The last straw was when a man spat at her.

"He came walking in with a fisherman's cap and a fatigue jacket on and slowly made his way along the wall, looking at the pictures," she said. "Then he put his fists on my desk, put his face close to mine and spat. It was a real big loogie spit -- it was not a tiny spit."

As Haigh ran to the back of the gallery for some napkins, the man fled. Haigh has filed a police report on the incident.

Among the messages left on the gallery answering machine were, "You f---ing coward, you're dead" and "I think you need to get your gallery out of this neighborhood before you get hurt."

She said she felt like a "a sitting duck."

"I feel like my gallery had finally reached a level where I represent important Bay Area figures like Winton Smith and Guy Colwell," she said. "If I can't do that, then I don't want to have a gallery. This is a labor of love -- galleries don't make a lot of money."

On Saturday, Colwell will bring a U-haul to the gallery to retrieve his artwork, and a number of the artist's supporters are expected to turn out. The next show scheduled by famous punk rock and counterculture artist Winston Smith has been cancelled.

Smith, a North Beach resident, who was himself denounced in the 1980s when he was the album cover artist for punk rock band The Dead Kennedys, said it was "too bad" that the gallery was closing.

"It is a good location, and [Haigh] is a sincere person who is a hard worker and was going out of her way to feature local talent," Smith said.

Smith said he didn't understand why those outraged by the graphic depictions of torture in the Iraqi prison would have such a strong reaction to a painting depicting one artist's vision of the abuse.

"They must be anti-American if they despise freedom of speech so much, which is the essence of American freedom," he said.

Smith said Haigh was respectful of artists and didn't approach her gallery with a political agenda.

"If someone wanted to show a flag-waving solider in Iraq, she would say, 'You're the artists, do whatever you want,'" he said.

Haigh's lease runs out at the end of the year, and she hopes to sublet the gallery in the interim. She said she is disappointed with North Beach, which still clings to its reputation as an artists' haven developed in the 1950s. One figure from that era, poet and City Lights Bookstore co-owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti, stopped by the gallery to offer his support.

"I gave it a week and weighed the options," Haigh said. "Had I felt that there was enough support, my gallery wouldn't be closed down right now."

Book publisher Ron Turner, whose company Last Gasp published Colwell's art, was sympathetic.

"She got threats," he said. "She is a single woman with two kids trying to be a business woman and there are crazies threatening to roast her children."

Neighborhood activist Marc Bruno said he "felt terrible" when he heard what was going on at the gallery.

"I brought flowers there," he said. "I felt bad for her."

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