Controversy over 'Pills' Video

Wave Pool, the Camp Washington nonprofit art center, decides to pull a short video from an exhibition due to concern about its accuracy

click to enlarge A still from the 2015 video "Pills" by artists Aalap Bommaraju, Arthur Menezes Brum and Liz Cambron - PHOTO: Courtesy of the artists
PHOTO: Courtesy of the artists
A still from the 2015 video "Pills" by artists Aalap Bommaraju, Arthur Menezes Brum and Liz Cambron

A video that caused a stir more than two years ago at the Mini Microcinema, and that criticizes People’s Liberty philanthropic lab, has created new controversy at Camp Washington’s Wave Pool gallery. It was cut from an exhibition there because, according to Wave Pool, the filmmakers got a fundamental fact wrong.

Taking its place is a written response from the filmmakers questioning why large foundations get to determine who makes art. Meanwhile, Wave Pool has had second thoughts about its own actions.

Wave Pool’ s executive director, Calcagno Cullen, says the board of the nonprofit art center chose to pull the film Pills — the title refers to the bitter and feel-better pills one swallows when drawn into gentrification — because it makes false statements about how People’s Liberty, a nonprofit philanthropic lab, gets its money.

The film states that People’s Liberty is “funded at least in part by the enormous profits accruing to U.S. Bank.” People’s Liberty is an initiative of the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation. But the private family foundation is separate from the financial institution. That is explained on tax documents available to the public.

Asked whether they accept that their statement is incorrect, the filmmakers — Cincinnatians Aalap Bommaraju and Liz Cambron and partner Arthur Menezes Brum of New York — expressed misgivings.

“To claim that there are no financial ties, maybe that’s something that you can prove through some tax forms,” Bommaraju says. “But I stand by that statement because of the multiple levels that are implicated inside of it.”  

The filmmakers say the phrase “powered by the Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation” on the People’s Liberty website is ambiguous.

The Haile Foundation awarded Wave Pool a $150,000 grant in 2017. Put in the predicament of worrying about future grants while also wanting to affirm its support for artists and curators, Wave Pool chose to be on the side of the facts, Cullen and board president Mark Dejong say. Cullen adds that no one from People’s Liberty requested that the film be removed when she brought it to the organization’s attention as the opening approached; the decision was left to the gallery.

Eric Avner, CEO of the Over-the-Rhine-based People's Liberty and a Haile Foundation vice president, would not comment.

The two-minute film was presented at the Mini Microcinema, a People's Liberty grantee, in 2015 with other movies about gentrification. The intent was to spark discussion. The Microcinema's C. Jacqueline Wood says she felt blindsided by the way the program's curator only told her shortly before the screening began that Pills had been added. She didn't object to its content, she says, but to the logistics of how it was presented.

Pills from Liz Cambron on Vimeo.

Abby Friend, a curatorial resident in a new Wave Pool program, placed Pills in her current exhibit With No Memories, No Ties, No Phantoms To Tend For, which examines cultural appropriation. She says she had hoped the adverse reaction to the film was in the past.

Cullen and Maria Seda-Reeder, a CityBeat writer who oversees the residency program, say Friend did not have Pills in her original proposal. They say that when Friend presented her wish to include the work about a month before the opening, they didn’t believe it fit the exhibit’s theme but chose to be supportive anyway.

Friend says she wanted to include Pills because cultural appropriation is more than adopting another group’s images. Cullen and Seda-Reeder were aware of the film’s history with the Mini Microcinema. Then the false statements about funding came to light on Wave Pool's Jan. 20 opening, and the film was removed.

Cullen now says Wave Pool could have found a solution that allowed the film to remain with a label stating its flaws. After a conversation with the filmmakers, the gallery has revised the statement it originally posted alongside the artists’ response.

 “As Wave Pool grows and continues to work towards inclusion within the art community and the community at large, we will inevitably make mistakes, but even more certainly we are committed to making progress towards becoming better neighbors, stronger allies, and an inclusive and progressive art space,” the addendum reads. 

“We feel we were in the wrong to pull the video,” Cullen adds in an interview. “We were sort of hasty to resolve the situation.

“We’re still learning.”

With No Memories, No Ties, No Phantoms To Tend For continues through Feb. 17 at Wave Pool, 2940 Colerain Ave., Camp Washington, 

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