There is a mural at the University of Kentucky that was done in 1934 by Ann Rice O’Hanlon. This mural depicts both Black people and Native American people in derogatory, racist ways including slavery. In 2017, the university commissioned a response piece by Black artist Karyn Olivier. The two pieces are now intertwined, yet the university wants to remove the O’Hanlon piece in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.
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.
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.
A library-fueled regaling of a nearly vanquished iconic Los Angeles mural and the topsy-turvy tale of its fruition.
The artist commissioned to craft the mural Beau Stanton was flabbergasted at the response and scrambled to propose solutions to mollify this dire disputation. Namely, solutions to avoid complete capitulation and lack of thoughtful dialogue and discourse over the impugned mural.