Artist, civil rights activist and clinical psychologist Mel Roman (American, 1927 – 2002) had an accomplished 50 year-career uniting provocative visual art, explicit political critique and the scientific study of the human psyche. A straight, white man, Roman’s life’s work focused on achieving social justice for the disenfranchised. In 2000, SMoCA presented the artist’s controversial exhibition, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which confronted US military policy towards gay service members. Roman’s twelve sculptures, installations and photographs confront the US military’s policy towards gay service members. The artworks utilize visual tropes such as mirrored reflections, live television news coverage, found photography and the American flag to underscore the discriminatory nature of the federal policy. Roman—a life-long social justice advocate—saw in “don’t ask, don’t tell,” a larger societal challenge to equality, privacy and freedom.
During his 50-year career, Roman’s artwork addressed the human psyche and social inequity, racial discrimination, gay rights, gender equity, the right to die, intentional communities, and paternal custody rights. During World War II, Roman was drafted into the service of the US Navy. Following his honorable discharge in 1950, Roman pursued his PhD at The City College of New York while experimenting in visual art. In the summer of 1963, he worked in support of the civil rights movement’s voter registration campaign in Jackson, Mississippi. Roman’s forceful opposition to the Vietnam War further cemented the artist’s commitment to disenfranchised populations. Transforming these frustrations into visual art, Roman began integrating text, found objects and the potent symbol of the American flag. Coming Out Under Fire is the first presentation of this challenging series of artworks since the congressional repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in 2010.
SMoCA is proud to revisit this groundbreaking exhibition during the first anniversary of the Marriage Equality Act.
Organized by the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art