The controversial work titled “A Walk in the Valley,” included text from an 1899 letter written by Corra Mae Harris, a 19th century Georgia author, that seemed to defend a lynching. Harris spent much of her writing career at a homestead in Cartersville, which was donated to the university in 2008.
Ruth Stanford, an associate professor of sculpture at Georgia State University, was hired by KSU to create a display based on the homestead to run in the university museum’s new “See through Walls” exhibit.
But her art was removed from the display by KSU President Dan Papp just two days before the museum’s opening day March 1.
After months of work, Stanford had created a large, three-dimensional installation made of wood, paper and mixed media. She had collected writings of Harris and placed them across her work. On the back wall, Stanford had pasted part of the text from Harris’ 1899 inflammatory letter, which included racially offensive language.
Papp’s decision was met with objection from artists and some KSU students.
Several protesters attended the museum’s opening holding large black signs with the word “CENSORED” written in white letters. Others wore black T-shirts with images of Stanford’s art on the back and covered with the word “Censored.”
More than 1,375 people have signed an online petition on moveon.org encouraging Papp to reinstall Stanford’s artwork.
The National Coalition Against Censorship also sent a letter to Papp encouraging him to reinstate the art, based on a freedom-of-expression stance.
At the time, the university said the subject matter was “not aligned with celebratory atmosphere of the museum’s opening,” and it would be displayed at a more “appropriate later time.”
KSU announced in a prepared statement this week it plans to have the art on public view no later than March 25. It is planned to run through April 26.
Stanford released a prepared statement of her own saying she continues to disagree with university administration on the removal of her work, but she has come to an agreement with the university that the work should be restored.
“This has been a difficult experience, but I hope that the conversations it has generated about art, place, history, academic freedom, and free speech have been, and will continue to be, productive,” Stanford said.
In an email to the MDJ, Stanford added, “I am happy that my work is going back in the show so that viewers can see it and form their own opinions. However, despite my best efforts I feel that KSU largely continues to control the conversation. The conversation should be about censorship, and KSU does not want to talk about that.”
The university also plans to provide “explanatory materials,” KSU’s statement said, and host public programs addressing the “complexity and controversial nature” of Corra Harris, who was the subject of the art removed from the university’s museum.
“The university’s administration deeply appreciates Ruth Stanford’s thoughtful consideration and deliberation in this matter and her willingness to remain engaged in dialogue with university officials,” the statement said.
“Kennesaw State University officials also reaffirm the administration’s full support for academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas. Our intention is to use this entire experience as a learning and engagement opportunity for all of our stakeholders.”