UNIVERSITY VILLAGE — The UIC student whose face was shared more than a thousand times on social media and in news reports in connection with a creepy clown hoax wasn't dressed as a clown at all, he asserted Wednesday.
UIC senior Oscar Chavez was handcuffed and detained by police Tuesday afternoon after other students reported a suspicious clown on campus. The interaction with police — who approached him with guns drawn — scared him.
"I wasn't even dressed as a clown," said Chavez, 22, of East Side.
Stephanie Lulay shares more details about the art project gone awry at UIC.
The UIC art student said the costume he donned Tuesday was part of a mid-term assignment for his Topics in Art class. For the performance art piece, he planned to channel one of his favorite Dali paintings, 1936's A Chemist Lifting with Extreme Precaution the Cuticle of a Grand Piano. The painting is housed at the Art Institute of Chicago and depicts a female figure with a head of flowers, a theme that would be repeated in Dali works.
Naming his performance art piece, Big Blue Suit, Chavez wore a turquoise blue suit, a mask of flowers, painted his hands pink and was carrying pink scissors. Meant to symbolically represent a shedding of a new layer as he completes his study at UIC, Chavez planned to visit all of his old classroom buildings on campus one-by-one, cutting off a piece of the suit's fabric and leaving the fabric behind.
At about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, he visited two buildings in costume, first the Student Services Building at 1200 W. Harrison St. and then the Behavioral Sciences Building at 1007 W. Harrison St. He received a "positive reaction" from students, he said.
As he exited the second building, four uniformed UIC Police officers approached him with guns pointed at his body, he said, running toward him as they yelled: "Get on the floor!"
He never threatened anyone, Chavez said. He had no idea that there was an ongoing national clown scare, as creepy clown sightings have recently been reported across the country, including a Northwest Side CPS school. Most, however, have been hoaxes or false reports.
As he fell to the ground, Chavez was panicked, and in "utter confusion."
"My immediate thought was I was going to die," said Chavez, who is Latino. "No matter how much I complied, the reality is as a minority in America, my life is completely in their hands."
Police handcuffed him, scraping his arms, Chavez said, and six more officers arrived on the scene.
"They ripped my mask off and started questioning me. They were convinced I was a killer clown," he said. "I wasn't even dressed as a clown."
Explaining his performance artwork to a cop "was not the funnest thing," Chavez admitted.
Officers temporarily detained and questioned Chavez and discovered he was a UIC student involved in a performance art project, UIC spokesman Bill Burton confirmed in a statement Thursday. He was not arrested, Burton said in a statement.
Upon searching Chavez, officers found a large pair of scissors, Burton said in a statement. Chavez maintains that the scissors were part of his costume.
Prompting the response, UIC Police received multiple reports of a suspicious person who was described as wearing a mask, carrying a knife and dressed like a clown, Burton said in a statement. Chavez was carrying scissors, not a knife.
Reported malevolent clown was a student doing a performance-art project. No arrest, say UIC Police. "We take these calls seriously."— UIC News (@UICnews) October 4, 2016
Burton did not respond to questions about Chavez's account that UIC Police approached him with their guns pointed at him.
'Face of these clown stories'
Chavez thought the ordeal was over when he soon started receiving text messages from friends. They wanted to know if he saw his photo on ABC7 News. In the photo, Chavez is surrounded by five police officers and is seated on the ground in handcuffs.
Soon, more messages alerted him to other news reports and social media accounts of his detainment on campus.
"Even thought I was completely innocent, I was still the face of these clown stories," Chavez said. "You had to read the really small print to know that this was a misconception.'
Chavez said that his image, which news outlets received permission to broadcast from UIC students on Twitter, including DNAinfo Chicago, was shared more than 1,000 times and made all three nightly newscasts.
UIC student Oscar Chavez was handcuffed and detained by police Wednesday after other students reported a suspicious clown on campus. [Twitter]
they just arrested a clown on my campus. i am livid. pic.twitter.com/xkliyWyY7j— Ilyas Ashar (@ellyorwhatever) October 4, 2016
Chavez said he hopes UIC students think twice before posting photos of others on social media.
"It was all hearsay, it was all sensationalism which is just ridiculous," he said. "I didn't think I would become the poster boy for killer clowns in Chicago."
The performance piece went awry at least in part, Chavez said, because UIC's main campus and art building are "very disconnected," he said. UIC's Art and Exhibition Hall is located at 400 S. Peoria St., north of the expressway, and virtually all other UIC campus buildings are located south of the expressway.
"That's why I wanted to create a work in which it existed on the actual campus," Chavez said. "It wasn't accepted very well."
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