There is no question that we are faced with both change and challenge today within the arts community. One of the questions that we are all faced with is what subjects are important to us? What merits personal advocacy at a time when we hash and rehash topics in the public sphere until we are blue in the face? What will we expend our advocacy capital on? For us, that will always be art. Because we know the cultural value that art holds and, while it may have it’s own voice, it often can not speak up for itself.
A student from St. Louis, MO, the same state where Michael Brown Jr. was shot by then Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014, has had his art unceremoniously removed from the Congressional House.
The piece depicts the months of unrest that followed the aforementioned shooting of an unarmed black teen by a white police officer. It shows black protestors fighting cops who are depicted as pigs, which is where the controversy begins. In the back is the St. Louis Gateway Arch, a symbol of American expansion and freedom, which is covering a black man behind bars, to the left appears a dove about to be attacked by a crow, and in the front right is a black student being crucified wearing a graduation cap and holding the scales of justice: this is definitely not your child’s handprint turkey.
“The art speaks for itself.”
-David Pulphus, artist
Congressional Republicans have sited House rules that include a prohibition on subjects of contemporary political controversy. The Republican coalition responsible for taking it down only jumped on the piece after it was featured in an alt-right blog.
It had been up on the wall for over six months before this. Rules likes the ones cited would have made sense if they had been brought up at the beginning. But the piece had been up for over six months. Over half a year in a public space with no concern from anyone. So why was the piece taken down?
Remember: this is a high schooler’s art project that reflects his experiences and his world view. The student entered a contest, won, and was supposed to be honored for his bold statement, but instead was shamed and blamed and removed from the competition all together. The piece currently hangs in the office of William Clay Jr, MO 1st Congressional District.
Should the student’s art have been taken down because of house rules, or should it have been left where it was?