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University closes anti-racism art exhibit for being racist

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The exhibit’s artists agree with closure, insist displays were misunderstood

Mary Baldwin University has shut down an anti-racist art exhibit after students complained that some of the images depicted were racist. The exhibit’s artists supported the decision but also defended the art, saying it was misunderstood and wasn’t racist, Inside Higher Ed reports.

The Staunton, Virginia-based university removed the exhibit after two days and released a statement promising to hold a series of “listening sessions” in the near future that will “allow students an opportunity to share their feelings in response to the exhibit and their hopes for inclusive community.”

The exhibit, titled “RELEVANT / SCRAP,” concerned Confederate monuments that are still displayed across much of the southern United States. The artwork displayed depictions of the statues, some of them “turned into other images and mixed with other materials.”

An Instagram account with the title “yallracistatmarybaldwinu” posted pictures of the exhibit. One display showed Confederate general Stonewall Jackson’s outline as a green car air freshener with the word “CHRISTIANITY” displayed underneath.

Another display showed what the account describes as watermelon seeds meant to represent African-American tears. In the photo’s caption the account claims that another display showed nooses, and that when asked about their creative direction, the artists did not give a coherent response.

The account also displayed a video of pieces of paper plastered over a door and windows with #DearMaryBaldwin written on the paper.

“The two artists are white people who grew up in the South, and they say that the exhibit reflects their awareness that these monuments — glorified by some — are deeply hurtful to others and contribute to distortions of U.S. history,” Inside Higher Ed reports.

The artists released a statement after the university took the art down stating that they agreed with the decision to close the exhibit while also claiming that the art had not been understood correctly.

“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 declared. “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.”

“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 added.

In its statement, the university displayed an image of the empty area where the exhibit was previously displayed.

Read the Inside Higher Ed report and the university’s statement.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated with information concerning an Instagram account that took photos of some of the displays. The subhead at the beginning of the article has also been updated to better reflect the artists’ reactions to the closure.

MORE: Teacher tells student his art project ‘promotes racism’

IMAGE: funnybear63 / Shutterstock

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