In an environment where exposure to natural light is limited to sometimes a mere hour a day, the inward illumination that books are capable of providing should be something that is more accessible and available to inmates. But that is rarely the case for most prison libraries.
The 1990s were a period in which graffiti abatement initiatives were surging and county maintenance crews armed with government paint rollers would roam neighborhoods with renewed alacrity. Murals were obliterated left and right during this tumultuous time and many culturally significant artworks went the way of the blank wall. Tragic to be told.
Wringing activism from a moment of adversity within the library. I’d be hard pressed to find a more satisfying example of taking an untenable incident and converting it into a teachable moment that evokes compassion, empathy, and understanding.
Long banished are the images of the library as a stuffy and sedate place where any utterance above a whisper was met with swift opprobrium. Shushes and scowls from curmudgeon librarians ready to revoke your borrowing privileges. Very much far from that staid stereotype, libraries have become fortresses of acceptance and forthright with welcoming upright and raucous revelry within their aisles. And nothing encapsulates this veering toward the vivacious than the wildly successful Drag Queen Story Hours.
Librarians and journalists tackle the same challenges and it’s no surprise that the two fields have found natural allies in one another. Both institutions champion the notion of equity in access and intellectual freedoms within their respective mandates. And collaboration is key when one falls short of their charge to serve the community.
And, as per his reputation, Rivera didn’t skimp when it came to his ardor for agitating expectations with his art.
Very much to the chagrin of advocates for intellectual freedom and champions against censorship everywhere, the book was pulled and made unavailable to any readers in that particular system. There’s really no two ways to argue what transpired: Information had been stifled and barriers erected to prevent it from reaching the public.
While artwork can be painted over, history can’t be dismantled for the sake of convenience. Erasure is endemic when it comes to censorship. Intellectual freedom is under siege when the option of destroying artwork is proposed. And there’s nothing more ahistorical and devoid of thought than a sterile freshly-painted white wall.
The term blacklist immediately conjures notions of silence and censorship and an expansive chronology of historical struggles toward free expression and intellectual freedom. But this is a blacklist, I’m fond of stressing, that reinforces concepts of positive community-building and challenging people to rethink how we live and see our urban environment.
The artist himself has submitted that the removal of his mural was a form of artistic censorship at its very worse and found irony in the asinine foofaraw of an institution charged with supporting and promoting art, quite conversely, destroying it.