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  1. #1

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    What to do with "offensive" artworks?

    The article below is from the Idaho Statesman newspaper dated 11 April, 2006. While not referencing a photograph it does hit a topic that has and will have an effect on us all in the future. Changing political, moral and social climates often have people pushing to destroy artwork from the past or censoring what we do now and may well put a chilling effect on what one is willing to photograph, print and/or publish. Prior censorship and social pressure are two powerful tools used in some areas of photography and in the art world in general. This is a work that has been part of the building for years and now some who are offended want it destroyed. What is to stop these folks from going after your photos next week or next year?

    Read the article and what conclusion do you come up with?

    Legislature's move to Ada's courthouse could force decision on Indian murals

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------



    John Miller
    The Associated Press
    Edition Date: 04-11-2006

    For 66 years, two murals depicting the lynching of an American Indian have hung in a now-abandoned county courthouse in Idaho's capital, monuments to attitudes that once dominated the West but today have become reminders of America's checkered expansion to the Pacific Ocean.

    Starting in 2008, the Idaho Legislature plans to meet in the courthouse as its century-old Statehouse undergoes a $115 million revamp.

    Historic preservationists say they'll fight attempts to remove the murals, products of the Works Progress Administration Artists Project, a federal program that employed jobless artists during the Depression. They consider the 1940 works a part of the building.

    Still, Indian leaders and many lawmakers say turning the old Ada County Courthouse into Idaho's most public building, even temporarily, will force to state to confront the future of the murals, which one local judge in the 1990s found so offensive he draped an American flag over them. Race relations in Idaho, once home to the white supremacist Aryan Nations group, are a sore spot.

    "It's a perfect opportunity to educate the state of Idaho and its citizens on the kind of biases that native people endured," said Chief Allan, chairman of the Coeur d'Alene Indian Tribe in northern Idaho. "If we could sit down with the historical society, and have a sit-down with them, we could help make sure this won't happen again in the future."

    Some Shoshone-Bannock tribe members, whose traditional territory included Ada County, say the murals make many Indians uncomfortable.

    "As an individual member of the Shoshone-Bannock tribe, those murals do impact people and their feelings," said Claudeo Broncho, of Fort Hall. "They should be painted over."

    A week ago, the Legislature approved $5.9 million to begin moving its offices to the Ada County Courthouse, which the state bought five years ago after a new courthouse was built. The 2008 and 2009 sessions will be conducted there while an additional 100,000 square feet of space is added to the existing Capitol. It will be completed by 2010.

    Arthur Hart, director emeritus of the Idaho State Historical Society and author of a 2005 book on the courthouse, says removing the murals would detract from their historical significance. They're among 26 separate paintings that were painted in southern California, then shipped to Boise to be mounted in the courthouse in 1940.

    While the lynching murals don't represent a known event in Ada County, they're representative of what might have occurred in Idaho and the rest of the West as settlers descended on the region, Hart said.

    For instance, Qualchan, a Palouse Indian, was hanged by Col. George Wright near the Idaho-Washington border along a tributary of the Spokane River at the conclusion of the Coeur d'Alene War of 1858. And as many as 400 Shoshone Indians were killed by the U.S. Army Cavalry along the Bear River near present-day Preston in 1863.

    "I can understand it's not politically correct anymore," Hart said of the paintings, which for eight years were covered by an American flag at the order of District Judge Gerald Schroeder, now the Idaho Supreme Court chief justice. "But the murals are an integral part of the building."

    Tim Mason, who oversees the Ada County Courthouse as administrator of Idaho's public works, says pulling them from the staircase wall would be costly and time-consuming.

    Nonetheless, some lawmakers say removal to a local museum might be best, since everybody entering the courthouse would be forced to walk past the murals as they climb steps to where the House and Senate will meet. This year, leaders from Idaho's five American Indian tribes spent much of February inside the Capitol, campaigning on sovereignty issues including gas taxes and tribal gaming rights.

    "All of the murals need to be evaluated, both for their appropriateness and their artistic value. I find those offensive," said Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, whose district includes the Nez Perce Indian Reservation.

  2. #2

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    Quote Originally Posted by WarEaglemtn
    (snip) This is a work that has been part of the building for years and now some who are offended want it destroyed. What is to stop these folks from going after your photos next week or next year?

    Read the article and what conclusion do you come up with?
    What is to stop these folks? Nothing.

    The Egyptians defaced the monuments of predecessors, all societies have rewritten history to suit their desired outlook on life; it happens all the time. It is happening right now all over the World; don't like what you hear? Ignore it and make up "facts". Certain US leaders excel in that...

    Not that I like that it does happen, but I know that it does.

    Working for an archive, I have found that the best chance anyone has of having their work survive is to have it valued by someone who will fight for it and save it regardless of your political leaning or bent.

    You gotta have fans...

    Frank

  3. #3

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    The problem is pretty simple...
    They are not appropriate for a public courthouse.(i dont think a painting of anyone getting hanged would be appropriate).

    They are murals so it will be expensive to move them. Do they have enough artistic/historical valual to justify the expense?

    This would be a non-issue if they were regular paintings.
    art is about managing compromise

  4. #4
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    I think with the right "spin" these could be very approriate for a courthouse - they show how terrible things have been done in the name of law and/or justice. They show how our judgement can be swayed be our peers and that the way we judge things now will in time be judged by others.

    I don't think anyone is endorsing the behaviour depicted - so why the problem? They show something that happened, and reflect a past time with (relative) accuracy. Does removing them make it have not happened, or does it simply allow us to not have to remember? Would these paintings be OK if they'd been produced by and American Indian artist?

    Ian

  5. #5
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    Agreed. One of the main reasons I am studying to become an archivist to is try to protect history (as much as possible) from the hoards of barbarians roaming around trying to do things just like this. Part of being civilized is understanding that your opinions are no more or less valid that those that you disagree with and that differing viewpoints allow the existence of freedom. If there is only one point of view, what are you left with?

    Fear and ignorance drive people to destroy anything that does not fit cleanly into their fantasy view of reality. The only thing that stands between the destruction of our freedom is the willingness of people to preserve that which they do not necessarily understand or agree with and the education of people in the value of differing viewpoints. Allowing the existence of opposing views does not, despite popular belief, mean that you share those views. Intelligent people are quite able to recognize dissenting points of view without compromising their own position the process.

    Thomas Jefferson once said that Virtue was the willing sacrifice of the individual for the betterment of the whole. How much individual sacrifice is really needed to allow the preservation of a piece of art that a few people find distasteful? Futher, how do you think the people who feel that anything representing opposing viewpoints should be repressed feel if theirs were the works under the gun?

    - Randy

  6. #6
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    "This would be a non-issue if they were regular paintings."

    This IS a non-issue. It gives people a chance to show off their sensitivities. Don't like it? Don't look. Think it's art? Die while trying to protect it.

    Hire a team of lawyers at public and private expense and cost everyone a fortune, that's what should be done. That way the lawyers can get richer, the preservationists can be heard, the native people can be represented and politicians can blow hot air up everyone's asses after licking their fingers to see which way the wind is blowing. There is a much simpler solution, but it is too obvious. tim

  7. #7
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    Leave them up and hope that we gain a fuller knowledge about ourselves, and history by their existence.

    Paint over them and try to hide from our past.

    I was in Minsk in 2000 there was debate amongst the people I was working with about whether or not the road signs and squares should be renamed back to the pre soviet labels. 80% of the city was built post WWII, so any 'return' to the old names was a bit farcical, but it could also be argued that the soviet era names were just as illegitimate.

    I see this as being far more clear cut. We did it freely, we celebrated it openly, therefore we should live with it.

    *

  8. #8

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    This is a building where people work. How would you like it if your boss painted a mural of someone getting hanged in the foyer? Would you enjoy walking by it every day? Should they preserve every leaflet or poster that has been displayed in the building for historical purposes?
    Sorry it is a 'working building' hang the historical shit in a museum.
    art is about managing compromise

  9. #9

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    as a historic preservation consultant, i see why the preservation organization wants to keep the mural in the courthouse. it was painted by the wpa and is part of the building, and moving it to another location would remove it from its "historic context" and remove part of the building's "history" mr callow said a mouthful when he suggested they leave the painting where it is, so the people can learn from their mistakes and "never again" ...

    the problem is that the wpa artists were commissioned to paint such a painting. its unfortunate that there are people who heald and still hold those ideals close to their hearts. i was a a dunkin donuts this morning and there was a guy with the "stars and the bars" proudly displayed on his car. kind of made me sick.

    i meant murals, not paintings ...
    sorry ...

  10. #10

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    As i said before this would be a non-issue if they were paintings.
    They would of been removed and donated to a local museum in the 50s.
    art is about managing compromise

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