Is Artistic Freedom a Lost Cause? Mary Baldwin University Closes Exhibition Two Days After Opening

Mary Baldwin University in Staunton, VA closed RELEVANT / SCRAP, an exhibition featuring images of Confederate monuments from Richmond’s Monument Avenue, two days after it opened. Students argued the images featured were racist.

The artists, Jere Williams and Pam Sutherland, are two white artists from the South. The artists explained, “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)…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.”

They go onto explain, “One mistake that we made was being naïve in the assumption that viewers reading our statement and viewing the work would understand our position on both the nature of the monuments to the Confederacy and our constructive intentions,” the artists said. “We wholeheartedly believe the Civil War was fought over slavery, that these monuments were installed to foster oppression and that they ought not remain installed exactly as they as are because they don’t represent what we value. In hindsight, it might have helped if we discussed this background information rather than quickly delving into an art process discussion as we did. As such, we seem to have been misunderstood as people, and in our estimation the presence of the work does not violate the safe embrace of shared experiences or differences as stated in the university’s inclusivity statement.”

After closing the show, the school released the following statement: “In accordance with our values as an inclusive, student-centered campus community, we take seriously the concerns about an art exhibition by two Richmond-based artists installed earlier this week in Hunt Gallery. As a result of student concerns and discussions with the artists, the installation has been removed as of last night.” (Inside Higher Ed)

Image above: Artwork from RELEVANT/SCRAP

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