OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - Just 10 minutes before we spoke over the phone, Baltimore area-based artist Kate Kretz received a call from Benicia’s Jen Tough Gallery. She said they want to show her art in an upcoming exhibition this July. Her work is called ‘The MAGA Hat Collection’, part of a larger ongoing so-called #bullyculture series. But images of her work have led to her Facebook account to be disabled.
The hats from her collection--bold and crimson colored-- are the exact shade of red as any President Donald Trump MAGA hat--that’s because they’re actually made of them. One piece, “Hate Hat,” is actually more of a hood-- a Ku Klux Klan hood, made up of about 13 deconstructed, knockoff ‘Make America Great Again’ hats, with the exception of one, which she bought, only to make sure she had the right texture and color.
“I wanted to make sure I wasn’t putting any money in [Trump’s] pocket,” Kretz said. She did shell out $25 for one, which she purchased on Trump’s website. “Now I’m on his mailing list,” she said, explaining that it’s good to know your “enemies.”
The other deconstructed piece of MAGA ephemera is reconstructed into a swastika armband. This perhaps is what flagged Facebook to a possible hate-speech situation after she posted images of her work on her profile page.
As she wrote in a lengthy post published this week on Medium; her art is meant to call out those who wear the hats and claim they are innocuous.
“I feel like when I drive to rural Pennsylvania and people driving have just the word ‘Trump’ on their car...it almost felt threatening to me. It’s become a verb. I have friends of color and gay friends who tense up when they see the MAGA hat. We’re in a dangerous place. History is repeating itself. It’s like we’re all walking around in a daze like we can’t believe it’s happening. Hate crimes are up since Trump has become president.”
Her current work literally rips MAGA hats apart and sews them back together into traditional symbols of hatred while examining the way the U.S. cultivates aggression and entitlement.
But Kretz is no stranger to controversy. Her homo-erotic ‘Gunlickers’ [NSFW] collection is just as it sounds: depictions of men licking their automatic weapons. She said she was called awful names by internet “trolls” for sharing this work.
Usually she’s careful with her private information on social media and is mindful of photos she puts out there, especially of family members. But after ‘Gunlickers,’ a photo of her holding her daughter in an interview setting was found. Whoever doctored it, covered her daughter with a Band-Aid and posted it on her social media.
She said it disturbed her, but she blocks the trolls.
“It’s scarier for a woman to do this than a man.” As she wrote on Medium, “None of the art I have produced is more disturbing than the things happening in real life that inspired me to make the work.”
In early May, Facebook removed Kretz’ images of her latest work for violating community standards. The artist protested, re-uploaded her images, but this time with a disclaimer stating that her art was not hate speech, and in fact was commentary on hate speech, much like a political cartoon.
Then Facebook disabled her account.
“It’s really a giant mistake. I have no way of knowing if the trolls got together to report it, or if it was Facebook’s image software. Either someone saw an opportunity, or I’m a victim of a faulty system.”
Kretz described feeling powerless in her situation. “I have to be able to show my art. This is my business.”
For 30 years she’s been a working artist and has spent the last 10 years on Facebook where she posts images of her artwork. She likens the social media platform to her own carefully-curated mailing list.
“We provide a lot of content for them. I get a lot from Facebook, but I also give a lot. When you do business with someone you always get your work back. I have no recourse to get back my own info and content back from them.”
KTVU reached out to Facebook for comment on the vetting process and the timeline for the artist potentially getting her Facebook account reinstated. We did not hear back from Facebook, but Kretz said after more than two weeks her account was back up as of Sunday, May 26.
In the time her account was disabled, she checked in with Facebook every morning and filled out a form to have her page reviewed. “I keep hoping that a new person gets it. I haven’t accepted the fact that my page is gone," she said at the time. "The way I’m being treated makes me feel that they don’t understand how their users are using their platform.”
Artist Kate Kretz' work will be shown at a solo exhibition hosted by Benicia's Jen Tough Gallery in July. For security reasons, the exhibit, originally planned at the gallery, will be moved to a more secure location in San Francisco.