Sunday, December 26, 2021

Kelly Latimore's "Mama" at Catholic University

The New York Times ran a story about a print by artist Kelly Latimore that has twice been stolen at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. because someone is just soooo offended by it. (The conservative publication of the university gives a decent version of the saga up through late November.)

Basically, the university's law school purchased a work portraying a Black Jesus and Mary (a pietà) and unveiled it during Black History Month, 2021. It's titled "Mama" and is a referenced to the murder of George Floyd. The New York Times story includes this:

Latimore...said he always responds "yes" when asked whether the painting depicts Jesus or Floyd. "It's not an either-or scenario. Is it George Floyd? Yes. Is it Jesus? Yes. There's sacredness in every person."

The painting was stolen soon after the Daily Signal article appeared in November and the story attracted other right-wing attention. At first, the university replaced the copy with a smaller copy, essentially stating that they would not allow the theft to prevent this expression of views. But after the second theft in early December, a student-led petition, and a student government resolution, the university's president apologized for the "confusion" the artwork created.

The things that get me about this story are:

  • Confusion? What confusion? No one is "confused."
  • Has anyone asked an art historian about the history of depictions of Christ over the centuries and how other people may or may not have been referenced? Or how art can be used to express values that are clearly Christian, even when they are not popular with the powerful or mainstream? Or even that art can have nuance and duality instead of over-simplification? It doesn't appear so.
  • The right-wing students (and national media, of course) who have whipped up the response to this are so typical.
  • Are there no left-wing Catholic students to respond and be quoted in the newspapers? Maybe not at Catholic University, but I know it would not be the case at St. Thomas University in St. Paul.
  • The cowardly apology from the university's president is more about its fear of losing conservative students in the future than anything else.

These thefts and descriptions of the work as "blasphemous" have more in common with the intimidation of artists who dare to depict Muhammad than anything else, and are a perfect fit with the rest of the Talibanization of the Republican Party. 

Here's another thing they hate about the artwork:

Latimore also decided to change Mary's gaze in the painting so that she is looking at the viewer. "She's asking, 'What are you going to do so this doesn't keep happening?'" Latimore said.

One final irony: Latimore's artwork was originally put on display at the entrance to the university's law school. What's the name of that august place of higher education? 

The Columbus School of Law. 

No one seems ashamed of that enough to change it, though.


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