Kennesaw State U. Opens Art Museum With Act of Censorship

Kennesaw State University, in Georgia, opened its new Bernard A. Zuckerman Museum of Art on Saturday, but it drew as much attention for its decision to censor an artwork planned for the featured exhibit as for the celebration of what a local arts newspaper, Creative Loafing, called the Atlanta area’s first new art museum in more than a decade.

The censored artwork—by Ruth Stanford, an associate professor of sculpture at Georgia State University—is called “A Walk in the Valley” and concerns a tract of land that Kennesaw State has owned for six years but that once belonged to a Southern writer, Corra Mae Harris, who is known for an 1899 article in defense of lynching.

Last Thursday, the newspaper reported, Ms. Stanford was informed that Kennesaw State’s president, Daniel S. Papp, had directed curators to remove the artwork from the exhibit.

The university’s acquisition of the Harris property, through a 2008 gift, was controversial, with some faculty members urging the university to return it. So it seems likely that Ms. Stanford’s artwork—commissioned by museum curators for the show—was bound to be controversial too. “A Walk in the Valley” takes the form of a faux museum exhibit (see photographs here) about what Ms. Stanford described as the “very complicated story” of the turn-of-the-century writer.

A university spokeswoman told the newspaper that Ms. Stanford’s work “did not align with the celebratory atmosphere of the museum’s opening. We therefore made the difficult decision to remove the exhibit for display at a more appropriate later time.”

A group of protesters stood at the museum’s entrance during its grand opening on Saturday night, carrying signs and wearing T-shirts labeled “Censored,” WGCL-TV, a CBS affiliate in Atlanta, reported.

Catherine M. Lewis, a professor of history and executive director of the university’s museums, archives, and rare books, said she welcomed the protest. “It is really important to make sure that we hear a lot of voices,” she told the station. “I am excited about the possibility that we will be able to revisit this issue,” she said, suggesting that Ms. Stanford’s work could be reinstalled later.

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