KSU, artist in talks on controversial exhibit

After days of protest and cries of censorship, Kennesaw State University announced Wednesday that it was in talks with a local artist to restore her controversial installation to the university’s new Zuckerman Museum of Art.

Ruth Stanford’s installation “A Walk in the Valley,” was removed just before last week’s opening of the Zuckerman after KSU officials became concerned that the work would offend viewers and inflame issues of race. The piece contains text from a 19th-century letter by Corra Harris, a Georgia novelist, who justified the lynching of a black man near Newnan. Harris’s Bartow County farm was donated to KSU six years ago, and the move put a harsh spotlight on the school, given Harris’s incendiary views on race.

The Atlanta arts blog Burnaway first reported the offer from KSU to reinstate the piece, but with conditions. In a statement released Wednesday the university said that the director of its Department of Museums, Archives and Rare Books and the curator of the Zuckerman had begun talks with Stanford, a Georgia State University assistant professor of sculpture. The move came after supporters of Stanford protested outside the museum and after delivered to administration officials a petition decrying the removal.

“Given that the opening of the Zuckerman Museum of Art was intended to be a celebration of new space dedicated to the arts, withdrawing the exhibition was a difficult decision that we knew would not be well received,” KSU said in its statement. “The administration’s action was in no way a statement about the art or the subject matter with which it deals, nor was it intended to limit freedom of expression of the artist.”

The museum proposed to display the piece later, “accompanied by related programming.”

In an interview between classes Wednesday afternoon, Stanford said she got the call from KSU officials Tuesday, but she was unsure if she would take them up on the offer.

“I spent a year carefully crafting and considering what I was trying to say with the work,” Stanford said. “I’m considering the offer, but the context of the work has changed now with all of this because no one will see it now as I intended it.”

Stanford said she saw the work as an “exploration of place and how people respond to it over time.”

KSU, which sought works form 15 artists for the museum’s opening show, “See Through Walls,” said it still found Stanford’s work important, but inappropriate for the launch of the new space.

“We deeply respect the views of the petitioners, and at the same time ask that they understand our views,” the KSU statement said. “The exhibit does not exist in a vacuum; it is connected to a sensitive controversy in Kennesaw State’s recent past, which remains extremely raw.”

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