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Group calls on University of Kentucky to halt removal of mural depicting slavery from campus

University of Kentucky
Posted at 1:31 PM, Jul 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-06 13:34:58-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — A national group is calling on the University of Kentucky to halt the removal of a 1930's-era mural depicting slavery.

The mural includes images of enslaved Africans, as well as Native Americans. The mural has been a subject of debate for years.

The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) wrote a letter to UK President Eli Capilouto arguing doing so would negate the work of Karyn Olivier, a noted Black artist who created an installation responsive to the mural.

Separately, Wendell Berry, a poet and essayist who is related by marriage to the original muralist, Ann Rice O’Hanlon, announced a lawsuit related to the mural. Berry is asking a Kentucky Circuit Court to stop the university from removing both works. NCAC and Olivier are not parties to the lawsuit.

"The University's decision to remove the O'Hanlon mural also renders my work Witness blind and mute," said Olivier. "It cannot exist without the past it sought to confront. And it is ironic that the decision to censor the original artwork has, in one fell swoop, censored my installation, too."

University of Kentucky spokesman Jay Blanton responded to the lawsuit in a statement:

"Our respect for Wendell Berry is deep and abiding. His contributions to our state and literature are profound. Moving art, however, is not erasing history. It is, rather, creating context to further dialogue as well as space for healing. As President Capilouto wrote to our campus last month, after years of community conversation, 'our efforts and solutions with the mural, for many of our students, have been a roadblock to reconciliation, rather than a path toward healing. That's not a criticism. It is a statement of fact and, I hope, understanding. We need to move forward.'"

Last month, President Capilouto announced in an email to students that in light of recent events, the mural carries "tremendous symbolic weight" and would be removed from campus.

Over the years, there have also been compromises and additions made. For example, in 2018 an African American artist was commissioned to add context to the mural. Last year, the Black Student Advisory Council demanded its removal. However, President Capilouto said the mural could not be physically moved. Instead, it was covered up in April.

A University of Kentucky spokesman said there is not an exact timetable for when the mural would be removed.