Andy Warhol's Race Riot breaks from his characteristic neutrality by reproducing a highly charged image of violent police brutality during the famous civil rights demonstrations during the spring of 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama. These infamous riots provoked an unprecedented amount of publicity, and are today considered one of the pivotal events leading up to the legislation of the Civil Rights Act one year later in 1964. The source, photography by Charles Moore printed in Time magazine, was published under the heading 'The Dog's Attack Is the Negroes' Reward'. It depicts officers aggressively attacking demonstrators with high-powered fire hoses and police dogs.
Executed very shortly following these notorious riots, Warhol's creative cropping of the image directs the focus onto the point of violent impact and heightens the drama of the scene, while the black and white colour scheme maintains the journalistic integrity of the picture. Warhol quietly held liberal views during his lifetime, though in the climate of escalating racial tensions in Southern America, chose to make a provocative statement about inequality with this alarming and powerful depiction of a historically significant event. Nonetheless, though starkly commemorating political tensions explicitly reported in the mass media, the artist illustrates with typical Warholian aloofness, our distance from and perhaps even indifference to, the truly shocking nature of these violent images.
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