Pizzagate, the bizarre debunked Internet conspiracy theory, which claimed that the Democrats were running a child-sex ring operation out of pizza restaurants, has an unexpected target: London-based artist Maria Marshall, whose artwork appears to depict her children engaging in unsafe behaviors. Elaborately constructed falsehoods, these provocative images have nonetheless come under fire from the #PIZZAGATE YouTube channel.
“I’ve got hate mail [because of the videos],” Marshall told artnet News, noting that the art world has always been supportive of her work. “It is weird you have freedom of speech over there, so people like that are not told to shut up… they could say that the alien from Alien is real or the film Lolita, about a 14-year-old girl seducing a man, is real.”
Marshall’s work is included in “Revival,” a survey of the collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA), Washington, DC. The show celebrates the institution’s 30th anniversary and will be on view through September 10. Many of the works in the show were donated to the museum by Tony Podesta and his ex-wife Heather, which is what led to Marshall’s work attracting the attention of Pizzagate adherents, as reported by the Washington Post.
The lobbyist and art collector is the brother of John Podesta, the chairman of Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign, and the victim of an embarrassing email hacking incident in October. Certain members of the alt-right, a conservative movement closely linked to white supremacists, latched onto a complicated theory that Podesta’s emails contained coded references to human trafficking and a child-sex ring. Podesta, and, by extension, Clinton, were covering up for their crimes using a DC pizza joint—or so the totally baseless Pizzagate theory went.
The anonymous #PIZZAGATE YouTuber has posted three videos on the subject of Marshall’s work, which he calls “disturbing” and “out of line.” Her photographs and videos often feature her sons, Raphael and Jacob, creating obviously fake tableaux with frighteningly verisimilitude, such as When I Grow Up I Want to Be a Cooker, a short film that appears to show her son as a toddler, smoking a cigarette.
“Marshall’s mesmerizing scenarios of maternal fear and dread strike at the heart of Western culture’s commodification of childhood,” notes the Metropolitan Museum of Art in its description of the work, currently on view at the NMWA. Marshall’s son was not, in fact, smoking in the work, which is meant to reflect a new mother’s anxieties about not being able to control her children’s future or prevent them from developing harmful addictions.
“My work has always been dealing with fear,” said Marshall. “It’s an artist’s responsibility to be able to make work about what’s around you.”
These provocative works read very differently to conspiracy theorists with Pizzagate and pedophiles on the brain. What the average person inherently understands as art, the #PIZZAGATE YouTuber views with suspicion.
“There are things here I cannot show you, that some of you aren’t going to be happy with,” he warns viewers. Later, he insists that he cannot go to the FBI because surely the conspiracy has infiltrated the bureau, urging viewers to take matters into their own hands by saying I “don’t know what you’re going to do about it.” A film of one of Marshall’s sons appearing to fire a gun with a live bullet becomes a snuff film, while a man seen eating at a table is cast as a pedophile
“The message boards, those people who are writing them, are not very well,” countered Marshall, pointing out that a gunman actually showed up at the pizza place targeted by the conspiracists. “It’s about creating a fear factor for the public.”
Her children, now grown at 21 and 23, have spoken out in defense of the work. “I have been involved with my Mother’s art for as long as my memory serves me each time an experience, which she made fun,” wrote Raphael on social media. “Who are these people that have nothing better to do with their time than stir rumors and conspiracies into our lives?”
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