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UPDATED: KSU Agrees to Reinstate Censored Artwork; Artist Ruth Stanford Will Decide
Kennesaw State University has issued a statement regarding the possible reinstatement of Ruth Stanford’s work. Scroll down for the full text.
Late yesterday, a Kennesaw State University official contacted Ruth Stanford to inform her of the university’s decision to offer to reinstate her installation A Walk in the Valley, with the provision that additional materials be on hand to provide more context for the work. Stanford’s installation, commissioned for the Zuckerman Museum’s inaugural exhibition, takes as its subject property once owned by pro-lynching author Corra Harris that was acquired by KSU in 2008.
The university’s change of heart came after five days of protests, media coverage, and numerous high-level discussions with public officials and private individuals that culminated in a meeting yesterday afternoon between Catherine Lewis, head of KSU’s Archives, Rare Books & Documents department and Papp’s designated representative, and Atlanta businessman and art writer Carl Rojas [disclosure: Rojas is married to the editor of BURNAWAY]. Rojas delivered a petition with 1,115 signatures [now 1,313] and a letter requesting a formal apology and return of the work to its intended place in the exhibition.
This morning, President Papp personally made a call to Rojas to discuss the “unfortunate incident” and KSU’s desire to move forward with reinstalling the exhibition, which “has been our intent from day one.” Papp told Rojas that the primary concern was that African Americans would be offended by the hateful language in Harris’s text, which was incorporated in the large wall map, not the resurrecting of issues around KSU’s controversial acquisition of the Harris property.
Papp acknowledged that feelings have been hurt but said he stands by his decision, which was within his legal contractual power. He told Rojas that he was personally offended by the Harris text and felt that the African American community would be more so.
Stanford is in discussions with President Papp and says that she will make a decision “probably next week.” Her concern is that “the work has been completely re-contextualized. It’s no longer the work that I intended.” She says, “I spent nearly a year struggling with the context of this work and how to present it and to be fair to all the complicated issues. I appreciate the offer to reinstate the work and am giving it serious consideration.”
“Ruth needs to reflect on things a little more,” says curator Teresa Bramlette Reeves. “We’re basking in the support of the community and are willing to do whatever Ruth wants to do.”
At this time, a formal apology has not been extended to Stanford. A statement from the university on the potential reinstallation is forthcoming.
While the fact remains that A Walk in the Valley was not on view at the Zuckerman’s grand opening, the museum garnered far more publicity than it would have, and an exponentially greater number of people have learned about Stanford’s work and the troubled legacy of Corra Harris.
On Tuesday, March 4, Kennesaw State University officials received a petition from people who are disappointed by and object to the withdrawal of the exhibit “A Walk in the Valley” from the opening of the Bernard A. Zuckerman Museum of Art. We deeply respect the views of the petitioners, and at the same time ask that they understand our views. The exhibit does not exist in a vacuum; it is connected to a sensitive controversy in Kennesaw State’s recent past, which remains extremely raw for many University constituents.
Given that the opening of the Zuckerman Museum of Art was intended to be a celebration of new space dedicated to the arts, withdrawing the exhibition was a difficult decision that we knew would not be well received – and one which was unfortunate due to the administration’s late knowledge of the subject matter. This was the result of communications breakdowns in our internal processes, which are being addressed.
That notwithstanding, we felt, and continue to feel, that the display will be more appropriate and meaningful when both the on-campus and off-campus communities will not be surprised by revisiting this issue and can be proactively engaged in its scheduling and the development of related programming.
With this in mind, the executive director of KSU’s Department of Museums, Archives and Rare Books and the curator of the Bernard A. Zuckerman Museum of Art are holding conversations with the artist to explore re-instating “A Walk in the Valley” in the Zuckerman Museum, accompanied by related programming. This is in keeping with the University administration’s statement on Friday, February 28, that it believed the exhibit should be displayed at a later appropriate time.
The administration’s action was in no way a statement about the art or the subject matter with which it deals, nor was it intended to limit freedom of expression of the artist. Indeed, we fully
recognize that art has numerous purposes – including but not limited to creating beauty and aesthetic value; commemorating and celebrating events, people, and structures; influencing people to think about difficult subjects in new and different ways; and challenging accepted value systems. We embrace these broad applications of artistic expression.