College Suspends Exhibit After KKK Painting Upset Students

A Massachusetts college says an art exhibit has been temporarily suspended after students complained about a painting that depicted several members of the Ku Klux Klan.

"The consequence this gallery had on our campus ... just wow," Ajah Joseph, a junior at Salem State, said Tuesday. "My issue is not with the imagery. It is with the steps they took to display this imagery."

Ken Reker, the curator of the exhibit, said while each picture did not feature a write-up next to the picture, a binder was created with that information.

"When the students came in, a lot of them maybe did not refer to the book to contextualize what they were seeing, and they were immediately inflamed," he said.

Students like Joseph found several of the pictures inflammatory, including a digital painting by Lowell artist Garry Harley depicting several members of the Ku Klux Klan.

"These pieces hurt me, yes these pieces threaten me, yes these pieces affect my day to day conversations on campus," Joseph said. "I feel like my university is doing an injustice and utilizing the great aspects of me, but not helping me where I need help."

The university says last Thursday it started hearing from students. By Monday, the school held a meeting with the curator, artists and students. The school estimates more than 50 people packed the small exhibit space.

The Art + Design Department chair, a professor and the exhibit curator apologized in a letter to the school community.

"In retrospect, if there was some content that was objectionable, or I thought might be inflammatory, I would certainly put those up prior," Reker said.

The school said the exhibit will be suspended at least until another meeting on Monday.

"I feel threatened with these pieces hanging in here," Joseph said. "I feel uncomfortable walking to campus hearing people talk about these things."

Harley said the painting was meant as a piece of social commentary.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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