There are stains on the Klansman robe. Splatters and thick lines jaundiced red-brown in color. Some places scrubbed clean. Stains behind the buttons. Taking the hem between her fingers, V.L. Cox says the antiques dealer had told her the nearly 100-year-old robe was soiled, but she hadn’t known with what until she had opened the U.S. Postal Service box and seen the faded blood as she lifted the robe from the wadded newspapers.
Truth be told, to consider the story permanently matted in that cloth is a little unnerving. In looking over the pieces that fill the North Little Rock artist’s studio and constitute her 23-piece multimedia series dubbed End Hate—including “Soiled,” the piece that uses the robe—it’s strange to consider how different it all is from what she’d done before. For nearly a quarter of a century, Cox says, she’d told just a part of the Southern story—creating work that tugged upon the threads of nostalgia, of screened-in porches, mercantile stores and so forth. But earlier this year, all of that changed.
Taking a seat on a paint-splattered wooden stool, she talks about how House Bill 1228 changed her life—and led to the painted doors that now lean against the wall beside her workbench. Once she realized what the bill meant, she says, how it had the potential to severely curtail the rights of the state’s minorities, she decided to go forward with an idea she’d had a few years before: Inspired by the “Colored Only” doors of Jim Crow, she found six (and later a seventh) doors from that period, painted and stenciled them with words like “Whites Only,” “LGBT Only” and “Veterans Only.”
And to make sure people saw the doors, she took them not only to the steps of the state Capitol (twice) but to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Recounting the stories of the people whose acquaintance she made there—notably, the former skinhead with swastikas on his forearms who’d given up a life of hate because he loved his transgender son—she says she’d come to realize the importance of standing up for what’s right, of making a difference and using her work to engender change and remind others they can stand up, too. Because, as she says, it just takes one person to stand. —JPH