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Mary Baldwin University Removes ‘Racist’ Art Exhibition

Mary Baldwin University removed an art exhibition by two Richmond-based artists Jere Williams and Pam Sutherland after the installation attracted student criticism.

The “Relevant / Scrap” exhibition was shut down on November 7, two days after its opening over student concerns that installation promotes racism, since it featured images of Confederate monuments.

Students raised concerns with faculty members during the weekly meeting of the Student Senate prompting the university to call off the exhibition.

“The following afternoon Tuesday, November 6, at the weekly meeting of the Student Senate, students further shared their concerns about the exhibit with members of the faculty and administration, including Dean Martha Walker, Associate Provost Andrea Cornett-Scott, and art faculty member Professor Jim Sconyers,” the university said in a statement.

“Following the Student Senate meeting, the faculty engaged the artists on Tuesday, November 6, to express concerns raised by the students and members of the MBU community. As a result, it was determined late that afternoon that the exhibit would be removed at the earliest opportunity.”

The artists wrote a letter to the university and said that students misinterpreted their work.

“We assure you that we are neither in agreement with the ideology of the Lost Cause nor racist (as many of the students called us),” the artists wrote in the letter.

“Our intention with this work is to use art-making processes to create an aesthetic experience of the problematic challenge of reimagining the spaces where the monuments to the confederacy currently reside in Richmond.”

The removal of the art exhibition by the university has attracted the wrath of PEN America, which has strongly condemned the decision.

“In the midst of a rise in hate crimes, and important national questions about the legacies of slavery and the Confederacy, students’ reactions to the exhibit’s content are understandable, and could have been better anticipated when the work was first revealed,” Jonathan Friedman, PEN America Project Director for Campus Free Speech, said.

“Teaching students that censorship is the solution to provocative material is a dangerous lesson, one which not only goes against the spirit of hallowed artistic traditions, but also creates a wide opening for others to call for censorship in response to content that provokes or offends, no matter the grounds.”

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