Sandow Birk’s painting titled The Battle of Stonewall - 1969 dramatically captures and interprets the historic clash between the New York Police Department and gay and transgender individuals outside of a bar called the Stonewall Inn. This altercation between the police and the patrons of the bar began after officers raided the club, and the gay community, who was already leery of the police specifically targeting gay clubs, started to form a crowd. The crowd then turned violent after witnessing the police roughly handle and mistreat both the employees and the patrons of the bar; they started to throw beer bottles, rocks, and trash at the police officers, and thus began The Stonewall Riots, which lead to six days of protests and violent clashes between riot police and members of the L.G.B.T.Q. community, and marked the first time that the L.G.B.T. community rebelled against government persecution of homosexuality.
The Battle of Stonewall – 1969 was purchased by the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, California for its permanent collection in 2008. Sandow Birk puts modern figures into a composition based on the classic painting titled The Battle of Mons-en-Pévèle – 1304, where 19th century French artist, Charles Philippe Lariviere, depicts the battle between the French and the Flemish. In both paintings, the superior side attacked those who were considered weaker, but the weaker side, who were fighting for their freedom, won in the end. Birk transforms the original scene, and replaces the swords with police batons and turns the French and Flemish flags into “Gay Power” banners. The knight in shining armor in the foreground of Lariviere’s painting is replaced by a transgendered person in mascara and high heels.
The painting is a didactic piece, as it is portraying an extreme social injustice committed against individuals who identify as gay, lesbian, and transgender. Sandow Birk does an amazing job exposing such a terrible social injustice to an audience who may be ignorant or misinformed about The Stonewall Riots and the gay rights movement altogether. This painting can also be interpreted as both an intellectual and emotional piece of art, as on one hand the painting provides a thought provoking look at a horrible event in history, but due to the graphic and violent nature of the painting, it can also enrage an individual, as witnessing such brutality while realizing that this event took place, and is still happening in current times, can be infuriating and elicit reactionary responses.
The painting was created with acrylic paint on canvas. In the background, there is a gloomy night sky that is painted with a low-contrast midnight blue that may also be mixed with a bit of green and black. There seems to be a haze of a smoky, white substance that is probably a form of tear gas that the riot police used to try and control the crowd. Scattered throughout the background and middle ground, there are brown and green beer bottles that are flying...