Arthur “J.R.” Warren, a black gay man, was beaten and killed by two young white men, while a third white boy stood by, transfixed, immobile. After beating and kicking him unconscious, David Parker and Jared Wilson, both just shy of 18 years old, ran over Warren’s body with a Camaro to fake a hit and run accident. They were angry that Mr. Warren was allegedly spreading rumors about his sexual relations with both of them. The murder happened in Grant Town, West Virginia, in the United States of America on the eve of July 4th, 2000. Initially, Queer and African American activists demanded that this murder should be investigated as a hate crime; local authorities resisted the assertion that Warren’s race or sexual orientation played a part in the violence: “It was just something that happened between individuals, we’ll never know why.” Local LGBT community members organized a candlelight peace vigil at the Marion County courthouse, which was attended by Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church. This incident brought to light public dialogue on issues of race, sexuality and violence. Eventually, the case slowed down, the furor died and the killers were convicted. A flower-strewn wooden cross etched with the word “Remember” is erected at the murder site outside town.
In August 2005, I moved to West Virginia from New York City to research Warren’s murder. I got to know people in the community, gained access to court and police records, media reports. This installation of two-sided images, reflects on the incident and its aftermath. Each work is comprised of four layers of delicate, handmade mulberry paper that carry the weight of gesso, pencil, collage, ink, paint and beeswax. One side shows dreamline images; the reverse side has a single sentence taken from my research repeated down the page like a mantra or meditation. My process makes the handwriting visible backwards. Automobile rear view mirrors, placed strategically on the gallery walls, allow viewers to read texts while in the place of the killers; the implication of the viewer in the murder becomes an inescapable part of looking. At the same time, the texts offer a multiplicity of views on the violent incident. The goal is to expand – for all viewers – what’s seen and to document the extent to which Warren’s body became a site of contestation – a symbolic battleground for factions with a vested interest in naming social reality.