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‘An intellectual destination’ – or so they say

 The En Masse–initiated mural in Washington Park, Chicago
The En Masse–initiated mural in Washington Park, Chicago
photo by Nabiha Khan

You don’t expect censorship at a liberal arts university that crows on its website about being “an intellectual destination” or “has driven new ways of thinking since our 1890.”.

But the University of Chicago just whitewashed a mural on an abandoned muffler shop by artists at the school in collaboration with local street artists. The idea was to create a way to improve relations with the community.

After the university received complaints from some neighbors about the mural because it included an image of a small boy with a gun, the university destroyed the mural.

A similar incident took place a couple of years ago at the Gainesville State College when it removed a painting called “Heritage” from the Faculty Biennial Exhibition at the college gallery. The image, by art professor Stanley Bermudez, described two Klansman, a lynched black man and a black woman faintly superimposed on a Confederate battle flag.

Bermudez, a Venezuela expat, told the press at the time that he wanted his painting to convey his negative feeling about the Confederate flag, which he said he associated with slavery, racism and the KKK. He had permission to show the painting from the exhibit curator, who told him she thought it would promote discussion and dialogue.

One end of the dialog came from the “Southern Heritage Alerts” website, that called the work “despicable.”

College president Martha T. Nesbitt said that the removal of the painting wasn’t based on any one group’s agenda, and that the overall content of the painting wasn’t the problem, either.

I'm still wondering what was left, if not the content and those who objected. .

Her news release is worth repeating:

“Sometimes a president has to make difficult decisions. First and foremost, I have to consider the impact of an action on the health and reputation of the institution. In this instance, I made a judgment call that the negative results would outweigh the positive ones.”

In the end, though, it was her judgment call that did the impacting. Students objecting to the banning took to covering their mouths with black duct tape. Faculty members, also upset with Nesbitt’s top-down decision, were said to believe that Nesbitt’s office phone number and e-mail address, noted on the Southern Heritage website, scared her into the ban.

There’s a moral here somewhere.

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