Some Congressman in America is crushing dreams by taking a kid’s artwork down from the walls of Congress.
So why’d he do it? Well, Republican rep Duncan Hunter wrote an Op-Ed about it via the always measured, highly reputable Fox News who have less perspective than a horse wearing blinders and suffering from macular degeneration. He also vapes on the job, which immediately makes me question whether between stealing kid’s paintings and blowing fog into people’s faces he actually gets anything done—but, I digress.
The real issue about the painting is what it depicts. Its 18-year-old high school creator won a national art competition with Untitled #1, inspired by events that occurred in Ferguson, 2014 and other recent rifts that have flared up between the black community and law enforcement. And it’s definitely not complimentary of the police—some resemble hogs/pigs, one of which has his gun drawn. Alongside the protesting crowd and the animalistic law enforcement is a crucified African American man holding the scales of justice, and to the side are a black and white bird fighting one another. The painting’s actually been hanging in Congress for six months, but no-one said anything until an article was posted in alt-right conservative news site Independent Journal Review.
Whether you agree or disagree with the police depiction in the artwork, taking it upon yourself to censor artwork is heavy stuff (Hunter apparently said to Fox News, “I’m in the Marine Corps, if you want it done just call us”). He’s offended, supporters of the First Amendment are offended, members of the Congressional Black Caucus are offended—everyone’s offended. But, if you could get rid of everything that offended someone, we’d be rid of the human carrot cake whose getting sworn in a president right now, we’d be rid of less than glowing La La Land movie reviews that keep Gosling lovers up at night, and we’d never go through the agony of seeing people wearing those toe separating hiking booties.
Democrat rep. William Lacy Clay (whose Congressional area includes Ferguson) who’s been leading the charge to keep the painting, perhaps said it best: “I do not agree or disagree with the painting, but I will fight to protect this young man’s right to express himself.” The current tally of painting re-hangs by members of the Congressional Black Caucus currently sits at three, and it looks like this weird grown man tug of war with an oil painting will continue.
Censorship throughout history, and still today, is one big mess. When something blurs the line between free speech and being considered a ‘danger to society,’ things get confusing. Here’s some other works in recent American history that rubbed some people in the government the wrong way.
Piss Christ by Andres Serrano
Photographer Serrano has been receiving death threats and censorship issues about this one for decades. The photograph, which shows a plastic crucifix immersed in a cup of urine, was initially positively received by audiences in New York in 1987, but when right-wing Fundamentalist Cristian groups and North Carolina Senator Jess Helms caught wind of the work, they lost it. Serrano (who himself is a Christian) said he never intended the work to be so controversial. The artwork was vandalised multiple times due to certain people believing it to be ‘blasphemous,’ and the Associated Press took it down from its online archives following the Charlie Hebdo attacks to avoid controversy, almost 30 years after it was first exhibited. Serrano said, “We don’t always want to hear what they have to say. But a free, tolerant society needs its artists and writers.”
The Perfect Moment by Robert Mapplethorpe
Robert Mapplethorpe was no stranger to controversy; many finding his sexually explicit works confronting and morally reprehensible as he often explored S&M and homosexuality in his works. A photography exhibition of Mapplethorpe’s was to be shown at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, but got cancelled before it began. Some people weren’t really keen on the photos of anal fisting and men urinating into each other’s mouths, and pressure from conservative politicians and anti-pornography groups had the show successfully cancelled three weeks before opening. Not so successfully for them was the fact that protesters gathered outside of the gallery and projected his images onto the outside of the building anyway. Which meant even more people got to see these “morally repugnant materials of a sexual nature.” In 2013, an exhibition was held to commemorate Mapplethorpe’s work and the fight to maintain free artistic expression that it represented.
The Holy Virgin Mary by Chris Ofili
Mayor Rudy Giuliani hated this one, saying it was “sick stuff.” Chris Olfili’s artwork featured a Black Virgin Mary, with clippings from porno mags decorating the space around her and elephant dung on the painting. Giuliani sued the Brooklyn Art Museum for showing it, but lost the case as the museum counter-sued for breaching the First Amendment. In 1998, two years after exhibiting the painting, Ofili became the first black artist to win the Turner Prize for his artwork.