For the past few weeks there have been a lot mentioned in the media about Bill Cosby’s women problems ever since this comedy routine by Hannibal Buress, where he called Bill Cosby a rapist, went viral and it subsequently led to several women who have publicly come forward with accusations that Cosby had sexually assaulted them.

I remember when someone accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault nearly 10 years ago but then it was quietly settled out of court, it quickly faded from the media, and I forgot about it until Buress’ comedy routine went viral. I didn’t think much of it at the time other than wondering if that woman was just another one of those crazy fans.

But when that video went viral followed by the #CosbyMeme Twitter campaign that turned disastrous and more women came forward, the shit really hit the fan in the media. I’ve read some of the comments on the various gossip sites and there are plenty of people defending Bill Cosby and accusing those women of being liars and attention whores. I know that celebrities have to deal with mentally unstable fans who stalk them or hurl all sorts of outrageous accusations. Both former Beatle John Lennon and Tejano music singer Selena were murdered by their own fans. David Letterman had to deal with a woman stalking him repeatedly and that harassment ended only when the woman committed suicide.

If only one woman made this accusation, I can see where people are thinking that she’s just another crazed fan. But when you have (as of this writing) 19 women coming forward claiming that Bill Cosby had sexually assaulted them, it’s more than enough to make me take a serious look at the possibility that Cosby is a rapist. These women had never known each other yet they tell nearly identical stories of Cosby either drugging their drink or him urging them to take a drug that he said was an over-the-counter drug when they complained of a minor malady (like a cold) only to wake up from such a blackout that they found themselves partially or fully nude. With 19 women giving similar accounts, one can’t write them off as being a conspiracy to take down a beloved comedian because it’s hard to maintain a conspiracy with that many people. Even if only half of the women are later found to be truthful and honest, 9-10 women claiming sexual assault would be a high number.

It even makes this 1969 comedy routine Bill Cosby did about spiking women’s drinks with this drug called Spanish Fly seem very creepy in light of all of these allegations and it appeared on an album titled It’s True! It’s True!, which also seems ironically titled given the current situation.

I wish it wasn’t so. That’s because since childhood I have gotten used to Bill Cosby frequently showing up on television with his gentle fatherly persona. I vaguely remember my parents watching I Spy but I was very young so I don’t remember much about that show. My first real memory of Bill Cosby was the Saturday morning Fat Albert cartoon show where Cosby himself would appear at the beginning and end of each animated episode. There were the numerous Jello commercials he made over the years. Of course, there was The Cosby Show, which I really loved for the first few seasons until the show got stale (which usually happens to many television shows).

I wasn’t a blind loyal fan of Cosby’s though. I had long heard that he had a reputation for being nasty, rude, and a downright bully when he’s not performing in public. More recently it was revealed that Bill Cosby made a deal with The National Enquirer where, in exchange for the tabloid killing a story about Cosby allegedly swinging with Sammy Davis, Jr. and a bunch of Las Vegas showgirls, he provided an exclusive story about his then-23-year-old daughter Erinn’s problems with drugs and alcohol. But there are many celebrities who are rumored to be assholes so that isn’t necessarily a crime (even though I wouldn’t want to meet them in real life). I just preferred to just enjoy his public performances without ever wanting to meet him in real life because I knew I would be disappointed if I had done so.

Bill Cosby has a few ties to the Washington, DC area where I currently live. Bill met his future wife, Camille, on a blind date while he was doing gigs at a small club in Georgetown and Camille was attending the University of Maryland. They would frequently go out to dinner at Ben’s Chili Bowl, which is practically a DC institution, and they were married at a Catholic church in Olney, Maryland.

Bill Cosby has such fond memories of the times when he ate at Ben’s Chili Bowl that he has become the restaurant’s most fervent customer. As a reward for Cosby’s loyalty, Ben’s Chili Bowl has a policy of never charging Cosby for eating there. There is even a mural depicting Bill Cosby and President Barack Obama painted on the side of Ben’s Chili Bowl’s DC location.

Bill Cosby’s ties to the DC area became further strengthened when he and his wife decided to loan their extensive art collection to the Smithsonian to display in the National Museum of African Art. The exhibit itself has gotten a less than positive review in The Washington Post but I’ll admit that I became interested in seeing it myself for macabre reasons, especially after this interview with the Associated Press that was filmed at the exhibit itself went viral.

To be fair to the AP reporter, I have to say that, as a former journalism student, Bill Cosby’s demands to that reporter was unreasonable. That’s because the reporter isn’t the one who makes the decision on what gets into the final version of the story—it’s his editor who makes such decisions. The most the reporter could do was tell Cosby that he would tell his editor about Cosby’s concerns. Otherwise, his editor is the one who has final say over what goes or doesn’t go into a story.

So I decided to go to the museum to see Cosby’s art collection for myself. For those of you wondering if I was somehow financing a possible rapist by attending this exhibit, I have to say that, like all other buildings that make up the Smithsonian, the National Museum of African Art does not charge admission. It receives direct funding from the Federal Government so it can waive admission fees to the general public. So I could go to that exhibit with a clear conscience.

I went to the museum on the Sunday before Thanksgiving because I figured that it would be a less crowded time and I was proven correct. I had no problem with finding a seat on the Metro and there weren’t too many people on the Mall when I was there.

When I arrived in the area I saw that the giant concrete flower pots (which were installed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to deter car bombs) had winter cabbage planted in them and they were thriving very well.

photo1

photo2

The colorful banner led to the outside of the National Museum of African Art.

photo3

This panoramic shot shows the location of this museum relative to the other Smithsonian buildings. The building on the left is the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, which specializes in Asian art. The red brick building with the turrets in the center is the Smithsonian Castle. In front of the Castle is the Enid A. Haupt Garden. The building on the right is the National Museum of African Art.

photo4

The front of the African Art museum had banners touting the exhibition of Cosby’s art collection.

photo5

There aren’t too many photos of the exhibition itself. That’s because there was a “No Photography” sign in the front of the doors leading to the exhibit. The closest I came to photographing Cosby’s art collection is this next photo showing the entrance to the exhibit.

photo6

I also took a couple of photos of the entire exhibit from the upper balcony leading into the room that had a different exhibit.

photo7

photo8

As to why there was a photography ban, I figured it out when I visited the museum shop. There was a coffee table book about the exhibit that was on sale (it was $50 for the paperback edition and $75 for the hardcover). I didn’t buy it. Even if Cosby wasn’t accused of multiple rapes, I wouldn’t buy it because paying that much for a book is a bit extravagant for me since I’m on a tight budget. In addition for the past few years I’ve been getting rid of books in order to clear out the excess clutter in my home and buying new books is the last thing I want to do right now.

photo9

Without taking pictures or buying the book, the only way one can view the art at home is by viewing what’s been posted at the National Museum of African Art’s website. Here are my impressions of the art collection of Bill and Camille Cosby.

A few years ago, when my then-husband and I went on a New Year’s Day excursion to the Smithsonian American Art Museum to see an exhibit of the Norman Rockwell collections of both Steven  Spielberg and George Lucas, that exhibit mentioned that one can gain insight into someone’s personality and personal preferences by looking at his/her art collection. So I went to the Cosby exhibition hoping to gain some kind of insight about Bill Cosby’s increasingly complex character.

Looking at the exhibition there’s nothing in it that’s edgy or controversial. And there are definitely no depictions of women being abused and raped. In fact, many of the artwork on display portray women as living their lives with a quiet dignity and strength despite being a member of two historically disadvantaged groups (as women and as people of color).

Tthe vast majority of the art portray the everyday lives of both Africans and African Americans. If I was viewing this exhibit with no knowledge of the rape controversy, I would say that the art collection reflects the common experiences in the everyday lives of people that’s not unlike what Bill Cosby successfully did with his 1980’s sitcom. Unlike The Jeffersons or Good Times, The Cosby Show dwelled more on the kind of issues that affect all families regardless of race than on the issues that affected primarily African Americans (such as racism). For example, the episodes that dealt with son Theo struggling with his grades in school is something that many parents can relate to regardless of race.

While I didn’t necessarily like everything that was on display, I personally liked the majority of it. I have to admit that when it comes to art, Bill and Camille Cosby have very good taste.

The most powerful of the pieces I saw is not even posted online. It’s a giant statue of Haitian Revolution leader Toussaint L’Ouverture comforting a female elderly slave while announcing that she’s free. The slave looked like she’s weeping with both agony and joy over the fact that her slave days are now over and she’s free.

All of the art on display were made by either Africans or African Americans and there are a number of works by female artists in the exhibit as well. Considering both the Cosby family as being a patron to African/African American artists AND the rape controversy swirling around Bill Cosby definitely creates a cognitive dissonance that’s similar to a recent article that was published in Philadelphia magazine called Dr. Huxtable & Mr. Hyde, which alternated between the things that Cosby has done on behalf of the African American community with the disturbing accounts of some of Cosby’s accusers.

It’s pretty surreal to think that the same Bill Cosby who is accused of raping so many women is also one who helped the careers of artists of color by buying their art and, in some cases, provided commissions as well. He helped those artists to earn some money in a field where white male artists have long been favored.

The one piece that most emphasized the surreality of this exhibit was a display of a quilt called The Ennis Quilt in honor of Bill Cosby’s son, who was murdered at 27 in 1997 by a Ukrainian immigrant who targeted him for his race. The quilt was made from Ennis’ t-shirts and other clothes by The Crossroads Quilters of Port Gibson, Mississippi. Here’s a screenshot of the quilt from the museum’s website.

photo28

I noticed one of the t-shirts turned quilt panels because it struck me as the ultimate in irony. Here is where this panel is located on the quilt (circled in red in the photo below).

photo29

The t-shirt/quilt panel read “What Part of NO Didn’t You Understand?” That’s the slogan frequently used by anti-rape activists to confront those who would rape or who try to justify rape by saying stuff like “Her lips may say ‘NO’ but her eyes say ‘YES’.” How ironic that Ennis Cosby, in his short life on Earth, understood the one thing that allegedly eluded his father. (Or at least Ennis was sympathetic enough to the message that he willingly bought the t-shirt and may have even worn it a few times.)

photo30

After I had my fill of that exhibition, I decided to check out the rest of the museum. I’ll admit that it’s been a number of years since I last set foot in the National Museum of African Art. It’s not among the more popular Smithsonian museums (that honor belongs to the nearby National Air and Space Museum). I can see why the Smithsonian was so willing to borrow the art collection from Bill and Camille Cosby. The Smithsonian figured that having a major popular celebrity like Bill Cosby involved would provide enough star power to encourage people to visit that museum. With that recent controversy, it definitely delivered visitors to the museum. The museum itself wasn’t too crowded when I was there (mainly because I went on the Sunday before Thanksgiving Day) but most of the visitors were at the Cosby exhibit.

There were far fewer people in the rest of the museum, which was a shame because there are some real nice works that are part of the museum’s permanent collection. And the architecture of the museum itself is very eye catching. Since photography was allowed in the rest of the museum I took photos with impunity. The following photos should give you an idea as to what the museum is like. However some of them are definitely NSFW (due in large part to stylistic depictions of various nude body parts).

photo10

photo11

photo12

photo13

photo14

photo15

photo16

photo17

photo18

photo19

photo20

photo21

photo22

photo23

This last photo of hunting horn from Sierra Leone was quite nice even though the label had me scratching my head.

photo24

Why on earth would a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company own something like this in the first place? I know that it’s a well made hunting horn but it seems out of place for a company that’s more known for its animations and theme parks.

photo25

As I left the museum and walked back towards the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station, I found this flyer that was wheat pasted on a wall. It’s for an upcoming show by all-90’s music band called White Ford Bronco and I felt old because I remembered the significance of that vehicle back then.

photo26

This last photo shows what L’Enfant Plaza is like at twilight on the Sunday before Thanksgiving Day.

photo27For now it looks like the Smithsonian is going to keep the Cosby exhibit going despite the rape controversy. The exhibition is scheduled to close on January 24, 2016. Only time will tell whether the exhibit will stay there that long or public pressure will cause it to close prematurely.

UPDATE (July 9, 2015): A lot has happened in the nearly eight months since I last wrote this post. A few days ago Bill Cosby’s original 2005 deposition was unsealed, where he admitted to giving drugs to various women so he could have sex with them. (Note that Cosby uses the euphemism “have sex” instead of calling it what it really is—rape.) The aftermath of that revelation is the steepest fall from grace of a previously beloved celebrity I’ve ever seen since O.J. Simpson was accused of murdering his ex-wife and her friend back in the 1990’s. Walt Disney World has removed a bust of Bill Cosby from its Hollywood Studios theme park in Florida. Mark Whitaker, who wrote a biography of Bill Cosby, admitted that he was wrong to have ignored the rape allegations in his book. The Creative Artists Agency (CAA) has dropped Cosby as a client. People are pressuring President Barack Obama to take the unprecedented step of revoking Cosby’s Presidential Medal of Freedom that was previously bestowed on the comedian by President George W. Bush. Despite all that outcry, the Smithsonian is still standing with Cosby by keeping his art collection on display until its original closing date of January 24, 2016.

UPDATE (December 30, 2015): Bill Cosby has just been arrested for the alleged 2004 sexual assault against a former Temple University employee named Andrea Constand. I’m willing to bet that the Smithsonian is glad that it only has one more month left before Bill and Camille Cosby’s art collection is formally closed as originally scheduled.

Advertisements