Heart of the City Archives

Supe rallies for artists as doubt rises
over gallery owner's "Abuse" claims
by Hank Donat

"I can't control what people are going to think," says gallery owner Lori Haigh, responding to rumors that Haigh exaggerated claims of threats and harassment after she displayed Guy Colwell's "Abuse" in her gallery window last month. The painting depicts the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison. However, a source close to the investigation says Haigh's story has "all the earmarks of a hoax."

"We don't know how she broke her nose, but it more than likely has nothing to do with artistic freedom," the source told "Heart of the City." According to the source, Haigh has not cooperated with police officers investigating the alleged threats and two physical assaults.

Reached at her Capobianco gallery early this week, Haigh said she had "received some calls" from a police inspector, but that was the extent of her contact with officers since the painting was removed from her gallery on Powell Street by the artist on May 29. On that date, Haigh was at the center of a rally by neighbors, artists, and other activists who were stunned when Haigh and Colwell appeared to rebuff their support. To almost anyone who attended the rally it was clear that there was more to the story than met the eye. (Sidebar)

District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin is scheduled to introduce a resolution before the Board of Supervisors tomorrow (06/08) which will denounce vandalism at the gallery and call for the "Abuse" painting to be displayed at City Hall. Haigh said that Peskin, who is running for re-election, is pushing the resolution for political gain. (Update: Prior to the Tuesday meeting of the Board, a representative of Guy Colwell contacted Peskin and asked that Colwell not be invited to display the painting at City Hall. The resolution as it was introduced by Peskin condemned gallery intimidation but did not call for further exhibiting of the "Abuse" painting. - HD)

Said Haigh, "What I'm really confused about is why [activist supporters] think the painting is available for display at City Hall or anywhere. Guy Colwell has said the painting is not available, is not for sale, and he's basically in hiding."

Haigh has papered over the gallery's windows and canceled a month-long showing of works by KRK Ryden. Asked why she has chosen not to defy those who would force her to flee her business, Haigh said, "If I were a single gal, I might. If it were just me, I might. But I have to think of the safety of my children and the other tenants in this building." (Haigh presented a one-night-only exhibit of Ryden's work at the gallery on June 5. No violence was reported at the event, which Haigh attended with her two sons, ages 4 and 14. Haigh said she was contractually obligated to show Ryden's work.)

Haigh said, "I have medical bills that I have to pay. If people think I did this on purpose I don't know what they think I did it for." Haigh was allegedly assaulted in broad daylight at the gallery's entrance on May 27. She was also alledgedly spat on by an angry visitor to the gallery a week earlier. Potential witnesses are asked to phone the SFPD at 553-1141.

"What's important is not to focus on the actions of any individual," said Peskin, "but to remember that San Francisco stood up for someone it perceived to be in danger and that San Francisco stood up for artists and for freedom of expression in this City."

Haigh said she would not attend the Tuesday meeting of the Board.

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