Jarring flyers bearing the words “White Only,” a noose and a QR code are advertising Chicago artist Hyero Veney’s upcoming "Yts Only" Bucktown art show, and are not postings by white supremacists.
In an interview and on the exhibition’s website, Hyero, a 23-year-old Black artist who goes by her first name, defended the advertisement after community backlash in Hyde Park. She added that copies of the flyer have also been posted downtown and elsewhere in Chicago.
"As a Black creative, I never got the time or the place to be that creative without having racist connotations around (my work),” Hyero said. She wanted to make a “strong statement” about this with the flyers and gallery, she added, “even if it comes off as controversial."
The language and image of the noose are evocative of racist posters and other threatening imagery commonly displayed by white supremacists across the country, which have gained increasing media and popular attention in recent years. Locally, an image of a flyer on 53rd Street spread rapidly over social media, with many residents speculating that it too was the work of white supremacists.
By mid-afternoon on Wednesday, Nov. 2, many of the flyers posted around the neighborhood had been taken down and destroyed by residents.
Hyero said she is not concerned that the show's message did not translate to the sign, saying that people will read into the poster what they will.
She also pointed to her experience at Abington Senior High School in a northern suburb outside of Philadelphia. The school’s mascot, “the Galloping Ghost,” is reminiscent of a mounted klansman, and "I honestly never saw a problem with it, even though it was a blatant show of racism in my face," she said.
Of the flyers and gallery, Hyero said, "I'm not just doing it for shock value. I'm doing it to convey that strong message — whether a white person or brown person or purple person looks at it."
"Black people can't create art for art's sake, and that's why I created this show, to put that out there that we can make art for art's sake and that we're allowed to just exist, rather than live in pain all the time," Hyero wrote on the exhibition’s website. “(So) if I’m going to be considered political by default, then I will be heard even though it requires an attentive listener to comprehend it."
In spite of its intent as an advertisement, the provocative posters have caused anger and consternation in Hyde Park, where they were up on 53rd and 55th streets and on Harper Avenue.
One was posted outside of Can't Believe It's Not Meat, 1368½ E. 53rd St., prompting customer inquiry. Manager Shantasia Lewis figured it was just an adolescent Halloween trick and said her first response upon seeing the sign was "What the (expletive)?"
"That's literally what went through my head," she said.
Lewis added that she did not take it “as very necessary,” nor did she get as upset or angry about it as others.
"I feel like people have the right to say what they want to say… (But) it doesn't really affect me the way that maybe it would affect someone like my mom or my grandma seeing it."