The University of Kentucky is looking for Kentucky artists to contextualize a 1930s-era mural in Memorial Hall that has sparked controversy on campus over the years.
Artists in Kentucky or with ties to the Bluegrass State have until Sept. 1 to submit ideas for artworks to be installed in two 13 foot-by-8 foot spaces in the vestibule of the building. They would flank the 1934 mural by Ann Rice O’Hanlon, who was commissioned by the Public Works of Art Project to paint the fresco, which depicts the history of Lexington and Kentucky. The mural shows farmers and frontiersmen and women, but it also shows a Native American with a tomahawk and black workers bending over tobacco plants.
Students and other critics have complained that the mural does not properly represent the violent subjugation of those two groups, particularly enslaved Africans who were brought to Kentucky. In 2006, then-President Lee Todd declined to take action on the mural, but in 2015, when a group of black students met with President Eli Capilouto, he agreed to cover the art with a shroud. He also appointed a committee to discuss what should be done. A year later, the mural was uncovered with a frieze of contextual explanation about the art.
“It is time to tell the story more completely and through the eyes of many experiences — preserving the art as part of our history, but adding to it to tell a more complete and sensitively rendered story of our human experience,” Capilouto said at the time.
In a statement, committee co-chairmen Terry Allen, former interim vice president for institutional diversity, and Stuart Horodner, director of the UK Art Museum, said the addition of contemporary art in the space would be “exciting.”
“We are committed to a thoughtful process of solicitation and selection, and a result that engages our campus and community in active learning and shared values,” the men said.
The call will ask artists to further depict Kentucky’s history from a frontier state to today. The committee will also look at how the works “engage in issues of history, race, identity, culture and diversity; exemplify a strong concept and skillful use of materials, and contribute to an inclusive educational environment.”
The budget for the work(s) is $30,000. The final selection will be made by Nov. 15, following a public viewing of the proposals. The artwork should be on display by summer 2018.
For more information about this commission and to submit a proposal go to: www.uky.edu/president/memorial_hall_call_to_artists.
The issues of art, history and context, particularly in Southern states, took on new urgency after the June 2015 mass shooting of churchgoers in Charleston, S.C. by avowed Confederate sympathizer Dylann Roof. Several states and cities have since removed Confederate flags and statues, including South Carolina and New Orleans.
A public art task force in Lexington recommended that the city remove statues of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan and Confederate Secretary of War John Breckinridge from the outside of the former courthouse in downtown. City officials declined, but discussions about removal and possible contextual plaques and art have continued.
Two years ago, a state panel rejected requests to remove a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis from the Capitol Rotunda, but agreed to put contextual materials around it. However, nothing has yet been produced.