Education

University Of Kentucky Stops Censoring Famed Mural, Instructs Students How To Think About It

Back in November, officials at the University of Kentucky covered up a historic mural because a small but vocal group of students found some of the painting’s depictions offensive.

The taxpayer-funded officials have now uncensored the mural — but they will be placing “digital boards” around it to make sure no one thinks some wrong thing.

The mural, which spreads over most of a large wall in Memorial Hall, “told a story through a talented artist’s eyes within the context of her time,” University of Kentucky president Eli Capilouto wrote in a tortured essay last week, according to Inside Higher Ed.

Capilouto wants to preserve “the art as part of our history” but also add “to it to tell a more complete and sensitively rendered story of our human experience.”

Thus, the public school will now hem in the mural with “other works of art from a variety of perspectives” that show “our shortcomings and the progress we still must make.”

The University of Kentucky will also surround the 1934 mural with “digital boards” which “will also tell the history of the mural and of the artist who gave it life along with other aspects of our institution’s history.”

The censorship of the mural was prompted last fall after a small group of black students complained that they didn’t like it because it features black workers toiling in a tobacco field, white people watching black musicians perform and Native Americans holding tomahawks.

“The mural was low-hanging fruit” University of Kentucky Black Graduate and Professional Students Association Erica Littlejohn told Inside Higher Ed. “Now they are undoing something they did last fall.”

The large mural by Ann Rice O’Hanlon is a depiction of the history of the town of Lexington. It is among the largest and most famous examples of publicly-funded art from the Depression era.

University of Kentucky art history professor Anna Brzyski told the Lexington Herald-Leader back in November that covering or removing pieces of art because they cause offense has historical precedent in Eastern Europe.

“In Eastern Europe when communism fell, the first things to go were the first visible symbols, statues of Lenin and Marx,” Brzyski said. “It’s not something without historic precedent that a society engages in soul-searching about images produced in the past.”

Student groups have attempted to get the mural removed in the past.

In 2006 the University of Kentucky student government passed a resolution to remove the mural from Memorial Hall, saying that it was offensive to ethnic and racial minorities.

At the time, school president Lee Todd told the students in a statement that the painting “is a statement of history, not a statement about our current values as an institution. It would be wrong to remove this work of art, just as it would be wrong to stop including in our history classes the terrible ramifications of slavery and the subjugation of Native Americans.” (RELATED: University Of Kentucky Covers Up ‘Degrading’ Mural)

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