Since last summer, with little notice from passers-by, a painting by a Missouri high-schooler has hung on the wall of a long tunnel connecting the U.S. Capitol with congressional offices.
The painting shows a chaotic protest scene. One of the demonstrators and two police officers, guns drawn, have animal heads.
The work, by David Pulphus, a former student at Cardinal Ritter College Prep in St. Louis, hung there as a winner of the House of Representatives’ annual “Artistic Discovery” contest for high-schoolers nationwide.
For some reason the painting only recently caught the attention of some commentators, lawmakers and police organizations across the country, who have raised a protest over the last few days.
On Friday, Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Republican from California, took the situation into his own hands and removed the painting.
Apparently Rep. Duncan Hunter removed the painting depicting cops as pigs that Rep. William Lacy Clay chose to hang in the Cannon tunnel.
“I was angry,” Hunter told Fox News. “I’ve seen the press (reporting) on this for about a week or so. … I’m in the . If you want it done, just call us.”
Twitter reacted with scorn and praise.
I’m glad that “Congressman” Duncan Hunter has all this free time to redecorate.
— aadip (@aadip) January 6, 2017
YES! Changing things we can’t accept. @Rep_Hunter personally takes down painting in Capitol depicting cops as pigs — https://t.co/DGHflkyJ3v
— Carolina Girl #MAGA (@carolinagirl63) January 6, 2017
Hunter also made headlines earlier this week when it became public that campaign money had been used to pay the $600 airline fee for his family to fly with its pet bunny.
Hunter’s spokesman called it a “simple oversight” and said when Hunter found out his campaign had paid the fee he paid it back as part of more than $60,000 in other questionable charges that he found and reported himself.
Pulphus said his painting, called “Untitled #1,” symbolized the injustice and inequality exposed in the aftermath of the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
Rep. William Lacy Clay, a Missouri Democrat, called the work “visually stunning” when he announced it as one of the contest’s eight winners from the state last year.
In a statement, Clay called the work a “colorful landscape of symbolic characters representing social injustice, the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri, and the lingering elements of inequality in modern American society.”
This week a coalition of California police unions sent a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan demanding its removal.
The police groups called the painting “reprehensible and repugnant” for representing police officers as “pigs intent on gunning down innocent people,” according to The Huffington Post.
Police in Washington, D.C., also called it “offensive and disgusting.”
On Dec. 30, the St. Louis County Police Association Lodge 111 posted a message to its Facebook page asking people to call Clay’s office and sound off on the artwork.
“Rep. Clay’s vision of our Police Officers, as animals, appears to conflict with the reality that we are in fact human beings … people, not animals. People who are willing to die for the citizens we swore we would protect and serve,” the association wrote.
Clay told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch that his office got phone calls from people asking him to take the painting down because it is “hateful.” But he told the newspaper he wouldn’t ask for its removal.
Clay said he fielded some of the angry calls himself, telling people that the Supreme Court protects artistic expression as a form of speech and that Pulphus’ freedom of speech cannot be abridged.
Hunter described to Fox News how he and a few colleagues unscrewed the painting from the wall on Friday, then delivered it to Clay’s office.
“Lacy can put it back up, I guess, if he wants to … but I’m allowed to take it down,” Hunter said.
Though various news outlets continue to report that Clay himself chose the artwork, members of Congress do not pick the contest’s winners.
Since the Artistic Discovery competition began in 1982, more than 650,000 high school students have participated, according to the House of Representatives website.
Students submit entries to their local representative’s office and groups of artists in each congressional district choose the winning entries. Contest winners are honored with ceremonies at home and in Washington, and their work is displayed at the Capitol for one year.
Before Hunter removed it on Friday the painting was to have remained displayed with the other winning artwork until this summer.
Clay sees nothing wrong with the painting by Pulphus, who he says is now studying art in college in Chicago.
“It tells me that this is this young man’s collective experience, and what he has dealt with on a daily basis in his community, and so he expressed that on canvas,” Clay told the Post-Dispatch. “Yes, some people find it offensive. I don’t find it offensive. I find it to be an expression of what one of my constituents is feeling about what he has experienced.”
The National Coalition Against Censorship praised Clay’s response to the controversy.
“Art often provokes impassioned responses — sometimes angry, sometimes enthusiastic,” the group said in a statement on its website.
“Indeed, the message of Pulphus’ painting will have particular emotional resonance during this time of fraught and divisive racial and political tensions. It is therefore understandable why people may find the work offensive.
“However, by keeping the painting on display, Clay allows for opportunities to discuss the painting: its meaning and symbolism, potentially helping heal differences by encouraging understanding of another’s perspective. This becomes an impossibility if the painting is removed.”
(c)2017 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.) — www.kansascity.com
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