A South Carolina jewelry line was criticized for exploiting and capitalizing on Black trauma with their new line of pieces named after victims of police brutality.
The new “Wear Their Names” line was designed by Charleston-area couple Paul Chelmis and Jing Wen – cofounders of the nonprofit group, Shan Shui – and was set to be sold in the Gibbes Museum of Art next week.
The collection featured necklaces, earrings, and bracelets partly made out of broken pieces of glass from the May 30th King Street protests that turned violent in Charleston, South Carolina.
Items in the line bearing the names of Black victims who died as a result of police brutality included necklaces like “The Breonna,” named after Breonna Taylor and “The Elijah,” named after Elijah McLean – both of whom were unarmed when killed by police.
just when we thought it couldn’t get ANY worse… pic.twitter.com/iGm7423PeI
— sophie the cat lady (@sophieming_) September 8, 2020
Profits from sales were to be donated to the charitable organization, From Privilege to Progress – which according to their website is “a movement to desegregate the public conversation about race.”
Because the controversial line was accused of capitalizing on the tragic deaths of Black people, the museum has decided to cancel upcoming sales.
The Charleston Scene reported that the museum initially agreed to sell the collection in its shop, but reversed course after Tamika Gadsden of the Charleston Activist Network expressed her opposition to the idea when the Post and Courrier published an article that featured the collection.
In an Instagram live, Gadsden criticized that – despite the museum’s intent to donate profits to charity – the jewelry line was not only being insensitive but also disrespectful to the Black victims whose names were used to sell merchandise.
“It made what happened on May 30 into a caricature. Really what it is is perpetuating white supremacy.”
The Gibbes released a statement in response, saying:
“In light of recent discussions, The Gibbes Museum Store is halting the upcoming sale of Shan Shui’s ‘Wear Their Names’ jewelry line.”
“The feedback we received from our community was enlightening and appreciated. It has also deepened our perspective in regards to future store merchandise.”
“We apologize to anyone who was hurt by this and will continue to listen and learn from our community.”
But by the time the museum issued its statement, word about the collection had already spread online and was met with hostility.
wear their names…. shattered glass from Charleston riot…. the commodification of Black trauma by non Black people… it’s the layers for me. https://t.co/VAoKWALH4r
— Shontrice (@Sh0n_d0gg) September 8, 2020
Naming pieces after them and selling them for different prices give me slave auction vibes. https://t.co/KRV05sEtLE
— ❂⁷♡the DUMBEST bitch♡⁷❂ (@kittylikethecat) September 10, 2020
i'm disturbed that this was conceived, produced, put up for sale, and sold before anybody on their team even questioned it. what is the goal of each piece if NOT violence? "oh, this? thanks, it's glass from the charleston riot! it was super $$, but i HAD to have The Trayvon"
— apotheosissy (@tenmillionboys) September 8, 2020
Many thought “Wear Their Names” was never a good idea to bring to fruition.
I cannot think of a single good reason to take the names of black people who were murdered by law enforcement and try capitalize off of it. Disgusting.
— 🧚🏻♀️ Mary Fairy 🧚🏻♀️ (@MaryMLupton) September 8, 2020
the perfect photoset exemplifying the disgusting intersection of late-stage capitalism, neoliberalism, and the art establishment doesn't exis- https://t.co/u1aJbcfe3k
— Princess Mononokia (@magshubbard) September 8, 2020
The idea of jewelry made from the broken glass at protests I can live with. The naming of the individual pieces???? Go directly to hell.
— ✨🌸 đặc biệtch 🌸✨ (@fulljungleazn) September 8, 2020
This is the microcosm of disingenuous white consumer activism. It's how young middle class white liberal minded people conceive of ways to feel demonstrably woke without putting in the effort to listen to those affected.
Privileged by the system, marketing to the system
— Jasper (@OctopusOwl) September 9, 2020
This is wrong on so many levels but one of the things that hits me the hardest is putting a price tag on Black lives. Like u said it feels like a auction & there is no price tag on our lives. Plus their families having to See price tags put on their loved one’s lives. I can’t.
— #Dear white feminists: I am not the one (@Kamalaallday) September 9, 2020
On Friday, Chelmis and Wen decided to remove the names from the items featured in the collection and “pause things” to assess their future plans.
After hearing about the pushback from the community, Shan Shui issued the following statement:
“So sorry to anyone we offended or harmed, especially those we have been trying to help. We genuinely thought what we were doing was good, and we want to continue on the best path.”
“We’ve removed the names from our site, halted our collaboration with The Gibbes, and are going to pause things to hunker down to figure out what we can do next.”
“We want to make things right. Thank you for holding us accountable.”