Why Indiana University Believes Its KKK Mural Needs To Stay Exactly Where It Is
The painting is stirring major controversy following the violence in Charlottesville.
September 29, 2017 at 7:46 pm
The Indy Star reports that at Indiana University, a mural by Thomas Hart Benton that depicts a Ku Klux Klan rally is causing major controversy.
After Charlottesville, students started a petition to have the mural, which depicts a burning cross and a Klan rally, removed.
The petition, which has obtained over 1,000 signatures, read: "It is past time that Indiana University take a stand and denounce hate and intolerance in Indiana and on IU's campus."
Despite the support for the mural's removal, school officials announced late this week that the mural will stay in the lecture hall in which it currently hangs.
The university's provost, Lauren Robel, said in a statement that she and all of the school's officials understand why the mural is upsetting.
"Even with the proper information and education, many students still feel strongly that a Klan rally and burning cross looming over their classes seriously impedes their learning. For some of our students, the burning cross is a symbol of terror that has haunted their families for generations. For others, the robed Klansman has figured in personal family or community tragedies and anguish," Robel wrote, "These reactions are absolutely reasonable on their face, and as Charlottesville shows, they are not ancient history."
However, Robel said that the school has decided that the mural, which was created for the 1933 World's Fair, is an important piece of history, it ought to stay.
Also factoring into the decision, the school said, is the fact that the mural is made of fragile egg tempera, and that any attempts to move it would likely result in its destruction.
Instead of placing it in a museum, the school has decided to stop using the hall in which the work hangs for lectures.
"While I believe that we can and should educate the public and our community about the murals, that intellectual work can and should take place in a context that does not involve the captive audience of classes devoted to other subjects," Robel wrote. "Therefore, Woodburn 100 will convert to other uses beginning in the spring semester 2018."
The mural has always been controversial.
When it was unveiled, many weren't sure it ought to be put on display at the World's Fair. Its critics felt that it painted Indiana in a bad light.
The painting is part of a 22 panel work by Benton that was meant to show Indiana's history from its inception to the then present.
Benton said at the time that he wanted to portray Indiana's history honestly, "even the ugly and discomfiting parts."
Robel believes that because of this, the mural is one that is a record of the brutality of the past, similar to Picasso's Guernica.
"Understood in the light of all its imagery and its intent, Benton’s mural is unquestionably an anti-Klan work," Robel wrote. "Unlike statues at the heart of current controversies, Benton’s depiction was intended to expose the Klan’s history in Indiana as hateful and corrupt."