State of the Union (exhibition)
Artist: group exhibition
Date of Action: August 2021
Region: North America
Location: Salem State University, Salem, Massachusetts
Description of Artwork: The exhibition “State of the Union” opened the day after the 2016 U.S. presidential election at the university’s Winfisky Gallery. 19 artworks created by 13 artists from across the region were selected from an open call for works that reflect "concerns and hopes for our future" in post-election America, according to a statement by gallery curator Ken Reker.
The Incident: The university temporarily closed the exhibition over Thanksgiving weekend after a group of students complained that they found several of the works hurtful and offensive. The piece that created the most controversy was a painting by Garry Harley that depicts members of the Ku Klux Klan, "Meeting Under A Black Moon in the Plains of Despair." Students mistook the representation as a pro-white supremacist work, when in fact it was intended as a critique of Trumpism. A closed-door meeting with fifty students was held the Monday after Thanksgiving to discuss how to move forward.
Results of Incident: The university decided to reopen the exhibition with several modifications, including contextualizing signage; the painting 'Meeting Under A Black Moon in the Plains of Despair' was cordoned off behind a drape.
Salem State President Patricia Meservey stated in a press conference that the decision to reopen the exhibition is based on the university's commitment to upholding principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression:
"These freedoms include: the scholarship of the curator; the expression of art by the artists; and the right to express dissenting and supportive views by the people who observe the work. […] We acknowledge that we could have done more to prepare our community. The overall outcome of the show offers gains for both those concerned about the exhibit and those concerned about freedom of expression, and builds on our approach all along: creating dialogue." (from Marblehead Wicked Local, Nov 29, 2016)
State of the Union: Difficult Art at Salem State, NCAC Blog, Nov 30, 2016
FIRE Notes Uptick in Student-Driven Calls for Art Censorship as Salem State Shutters Exhibit, By Alex Morey, Nov 28, 2016
When Art Offends (and Isn't Understood) - Salem State invited artists to create works inspired by election. Several paintings, created by critics of Trump, were intended to draw attention to oppression. But minority students were offended -- and university shuttered exhibit. By Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed, Nov 28, 2016
Salem State art meeting moved to Tuesday, Salem News, Nov 28, 2016
Salem State University Shuts Down Exhibition Responding to US Presidential Election, ARTFORUM News, Nov 25, 2016
Salem State University suspends exhibit after KKK painting upset students, Associated Press, Nov 23, 2016
Art or hate? Salem State University shuts down controversial show, By Dustin Luca Staff Writer, Salem News, Nov 22, 2016
Salem State art exhibit temporarily suspended after complaints, By Olivia Quintana GLOBE CORRESPONDENT, Nov 22, 2016
Liz Embree (Facebook), November 21 near Salem, MA