Niswonger painted this after the riots at UC Berkeley in 2017 when Milo Yiannopolis spoke there. She explains that “UC Berkeley was originally the campus that fought to have free speech on university campuses, and they *wanted* controversial speakers to be allowed on campus. I found it interesting that now they are fighting *against* it. They also argued that the violence and damage the protesters caused was acceptable free speech while Milo’s talk was not, and the university paper even published a story saying that since the violent demonstration worked, they wanted to encourage that behavior for protests in the future.
“So to construct this scene, I borrowed inspiration from footage from the riots and the falling girl, in particular, was inspired by a girl who was maced by a protester on camera. She was wearing a ‘make bitcoin great again’ hat playing on the MAGA thing and she was saying to the camera that she was there to stand up for what she believed in (which was letting Milo give a lecture) but that she agreed that the protesters are there doing the same. But more or less, I was interested in what defines free speech. What is violence? What role universities and journalists have in setting social and intellectual ‘standards?’ The scene of the painting also had the idea of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave in mind with limitations of our perceptions.”