Some think U. of Kentucky mural is offensive, so the school quit holding required classes in the building

Some think U. of Kentucky mural is offensive, so the school quit holding required classes in the building

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The University of Kentucky will no longer hold mandatory classes in its Memorial Hall in hopes of ending a years-long controversy over a historical mural that some find offensive.

The 1930s fresco mural by Ann Rice O’Hanlon depicts African-Americans picking crops in a field, a Native American with a Tomahawk, and black musicians entertaining white dancers.

In the last four years, groups opposing the mural made a variety of demands, but none of them satisfied everyone. When black activists first voiced dissatisfaction with the fresco, President Eli Capilouto had it shrouded. The next year, the cover was removed after a sign was added, providing more context for the painting. This year, those upset by the mural launched a “flexible” hunger strike, insisting school authorities to cover the mural yet again.

Karyn Olivier, the artist who was hired to add context to the mural, said that students should criticize American history, not demand that it disappears.

"When I first thought of what to do, my initial instinct was “why not remove the black and brown figures from the mural, leaving only ghost-like shapes?” However, erasing and (in effect) defacing a work of art is a less powerful gesture than confronting what is there. We must dissect and critique our American histories, shed light on what’s hidden/buried, and expose this complicated landscape for all to investigate and interrogate. … Erasing (or removal), we know, does not erase the historical facts of slavery and oppression," he wrote in an op-ed.

The university now decided that students who don't want to see the mural won't be forced to do so. According to Lexington Herald-Leader columnist Linda Blackford, when the next spring semester begins, students who object to the mural won't have required classes in the building where it is located.

“Ultimately, right now President Capilouto wants more dialogue and to involve more people about how do we further contextualize the space,” said university spokesman, Jay Blanton.

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