Last November I visited an exhibit at the National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC called “Conversations,” which was supposedly a comparison of the style and content of various African and African-American artists. About half of the art in that exhibit came from the personal art collection belonging to comedian Bill Cosby and his wife, Camille. The art used in that exhibition was on temporary loan from the couple to the Smithsonian for the duration of that exhibit, which was originally scheduled to run from late 2014-early 2016. This exhibit opened around the same time as all these revelations from various women who claimed that Cosby had drugged then raped them. While some of the allegations date as far back as the late 1960’s and as late as 2005, the vast majority of them allegedly occurred when Cosby was at the height of popularity in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

This week Bill Cosby’s original deposition from a 2005 lawsuit 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.

This brings to mind something I saw at that exhibit late last year that is the very definition of the word “irony” as it heightened the cognitive dissonance between the general nature of the art collection (which basically focused on the day-to-day lives of ordinary Africans and African-Americans) and the controversy swirling around one of the owners of half of the art currently on display in this exhibition. There was a display of some handmade quilts along a wall of the museum. One panel on one quilt caught my eye. It was a quilt that was made to commemorate the memory of Bill Cosby’s son, Ennis, who was brutally murdered at the age of 27 in 1997 and it was made using Ennis’ clothes. Here’s a photo of the quilt that I had to download from the National Museum of African Art’s website due to a photography ban on the museum exhibit itself.


Here’s the same quilt with a red outline showing the location of the quilt panel that I’m talking about.


Here’s a closeup of the panel itself, where you can read the message “What Part of NO Didn’t You Understand?”


That slogan is one that anti-rape activists frequently use to highlight the need for authorities to take rape charges seriously instead of just brushing them aside and to educate men that when a woman says “no” to sex, she means “no” and it’s a man’s duty to respect the wishes of his female friend. It’s obvious that Ennis agreed with the message on that t-shirt or else he would have never obtained it in the first place.  It’s so ironic that Ennis, in his brief life, had understood the very thing that had allegedly eluded his father—the idea that sex without getting full consent from the other person first is rape. And having sex with someone who is so drugged up that she can’t even give consent because she is unconscious IS rape. The fact that Cosby said in his deposition that he obtained the drugs so he could “have sex” with women shows how little Cosby even cared about the wishes of his alleged victims.

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.