Protest Over Controversial Art Piece Fizzles

08/31/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

When Bronx artist Melissa Calderon created a giant gold-painted bamboo earring, with the word "Spic" in huge letters across it, she never thought it would generate so much attention.

But her piece, now part of the Bronx Museum of Art's Living and Dreaming exhibition, which concludes the competitive Artist in the Marketplace Program (with its focus on issues of identity, culture, gender and race) drew anonymous protests from the community over the use of the word "Spic."

According to fliers that had been posted around the museum, a rally had been set for yesterday at noon, while Calderon was away teaching an arts program in Maine. The fliers called the artwork racist.

After hearing about the event, Calderon had awaited the date nervously for two weeks, her friends said. But when the time came to gather in front of the Bronx Museum of Art at 1040 Grand Concourse, no one but her two artist friends showed up.

"I came to support my friend who I thought was being isolated as a racist, which couldn't be further from the truth," said Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz, Calderon's friend and an artist who has also shown work at the museum.

Calderon's work, mentioned in Time Out New York this week, was meant to resemble a popular style earring that made it big within the Latino community--often as more of a status symbol, and costing over hundreds of dollars if authentically engraved with a person's name.

Edwin Gonzalez, a fellow artist who leads tours for children at the museum who was also there, said he believed the word doesn't hold the same meaning anymore. In some cases, he said, younger generations may not even use the word, and in other circumstances, those more attune to art might not have misunderstood the concept.

"I can appreciate the humor in Melissa's piece because I kinda have that similar sense of humor and sensibility," Gonzalez said. "To me, it was obvious it was a joke, when you look at it, it's just this big earring; whose going to take that seriously?"

And while the two may have been slightly relieved they wouldn't have to bear the brunt of claims against Calderon, both agreed a bigger discussion was to be had about what the word means.

"Because of the nature of what we do (as artists) we are kind of on the outside looking in--even though we have inside information about being Latino--so it's like we have two different views," Raimuni-Ortiz said. "For something like this to be called out, I wanted to see who it was doing it, but also have a conversation about why they were [upset]."

What do you think about the word "Spic"? Should it be used it in artwork? Let us know in the comments thread.

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