A high school in San Francisco, California is considering painting over two George Washington murals due to concerns that African-American and Native American students are being “traumatized.”
The College Fix reports:
The controversy comes after a working group determined the mural, made up of several panels, “traumatizes students and community members.” But advocates for keeping the 83-year-old mural say that removing it ignores the intent of the artist and represents an attempt to erase history.
In 1936, Victor Arnautoff painted the 13 panels that make up the “Life of Washington” mural at the San Francisco Unified School District campus. Arnautoff was a prominent Russian-American painter who created the murals as part of a Works Progress Administration project undertaken during the New Deal.
But a working group that met in recent months determined the artwork is highly problematic and should be archived after being removed from the walls of the school.
“SFUSD convened a ‘Reflection and Action Working Group’ that was comprised of members of the local Native American community, students, school representatives, district representatives, local artists and historians,” Laura Dudnick, spokeswoman for the district, wrote in an email to The College Fix.
The murals are now considered “endangered” and the public has been invited to view them on Saturday:
— Richmond SF Blog (@richmondsfblog) April 30, 2019
Here are the working group’s conclusions:
The 13 member working group held four public meetings and in February 2019, issued their final recommendation: to remove the entire Life of George Washington mural series from the school.
“We come to these recommendations due to the continued historical and current trauma of Native Americans and African Americans with these depictions in the mural that glorifies slavery, genocide, colonization, manifest destiny, white supremacy, oppression, etc. This mural doesn’t represent SFUSD values of social justice, diversity, united, student-centered. It’s not student-centered if it’s focused on the legacy of artists, rather than the experience of the students. If we consider the SFUSD equity definition, the “low” mural glorifies oppression instead of eliminating it. It also perpetuates bias through stereotypes rather than ending bias. It has nothing to do with equity or inclusion at all. The impact of this mural is greater than its intent ever was. It’s not a counter-narrative if [the mural] traumatizes students and community members.”
Because the murals are painted onto the plaster of the walls at the school, removing them would mean painting them over with white paint.
Watch a 2010 video from the the San Francisco Arts Commission on the historic significance of the murals and efforts to restore them below:
One historian finds the group’s recommendations deeply troubling:
[Historian Fergus M.] Bordewich, in a phone interview with The Fix, said there “is a deeply wrongheaded habit to project today’s norms, values, ideals backwards in time to find our ancestors inevitably falling short.”
“It betrays a very troubling intolerance of art and the ambiguity of art and the aspirations of art,” he said.
Bordewich added that the “mural is not a celebration of genocide, it’s a challenge to westward expansion.”
The working group has no jurisdiction over the school, so ultimately the decision on how to handle the murals will have to be made by the San Francisco Unified School District board of education.
—Sister Toldjah is a former liberal and a 15+ year veteran of blogging with an emphasis on media bias, social issues, and the culture wars. Read her Red State archives here. Connect with her on Twitter.–