A fresco mural at the University of Kentucky is now covered up because some students find the painting’s depictions of slavery offensive, according to the Lexington Herald Leader.
The mural, which was painted by Ann Rice O’Hanlon and is displayed in the atrium at Memorial Hall on the University of Kentucky’s Lexington campus, was painted in 1934 as part of a public works program.
Officials from the University of Kentucky told CBS affiliate WKYT that the mural is a depiction of the history of the town of Lexington. Now the university has placed a note next to the covered mural titled, “Changing time…a more complete context,” and says that the mural was painted in a time when African-American students were not welcomed on campus.
Some students said that they are offended at the mural’s depictions of history, with images of African-Americans working tobacco fields and Native Americans holding tomahawks.
Other students believe that the mural whitewashes the past and reminds them of a dark time in American history.
“I think the president has done a very good job voicing our concerns,” UK senior Rashad Bigham, told the Lexington Herald Leader. “This is a good first step toward creating a place where some people don’t have to be reminded about something as horrible as slavery.”
Bigham was among several students who met with University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto to discuss the mural. Capilouto concluded that the mural was offensive, but conceded that there is no obvious long-term plan of what to do with the mural since it’s painted onto the wall plaster and thus cannot be moved.
In a blog post that Capilouto published Monday, he writes that an African-American student told him that the painting’s depiction of slavery is a reminder of the pain of slavery.
“Worse still, the mural provides a sanitized image of that history. The irony is that artistic talent actually painted over the stark reality of unimaginable brutality, pain, and suffering,” Capilouto wrote.
In the meantime, without a permanent solution, the mural will stay covered while the administration tries to figure out a long-term plan.
Covering or removing pieces of art because they cause offense has historical precedent in Eastern Europe, Anna Brzyski, an art history professor at UK who is originally from Poland, told the Herald Leader. Brzyski said that the removal of historic pieces of art is common in former Eastern-bloc countries that remind people of the times under communism.
“In Eastern Europe when communism fell, the first things to go were the first visible symbols, statues of Lenin and Marx,” she said. “It’s not something without historic precedent that a society engages in soul-searching about images produced in the past.
This is not the first time that the mural has caused some controversy on UK’s campus.
In 2006 the UK 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 UK 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.”