Serhat Tanyolacar is a visiting professor and artist at the U of Iowa. On 5 December, he installed his latest work in a campus free speech area (a term, let us recall, that should appall folks in the academy). The work was a seven-foot sculpture of a Klansman, “decoupaged in newspaper coverage of racial tension and violence throughout the past 100 years.” The intention was to provoke consideration of the ongoing history of race relations in America, the artist told the campus newspaper. Not precisely original, but that may be too much to ask from artists in academia these days.
(As a side note, one wonders why Mr. Tanyolacar, originally from Turkey, didn’t do a figure of, say, a fleeing Armenian, but hey… I can make my own sculpture, I guess.)
However, Mr. Tanyolacar forgot that in the current climate, any work more subtle than this isn’t going to go over too well. Indeed, noted bastion of reasoned discourse Alternet headlined a story about the piece:
University of Iowa Students Wake Up to Threatening KKK Art Piece
As Reason reports:
After several hours, UI officials decided that the display was “deeply offensive” and needed to be removed. “The University of Iowa considers all forms of racism abhorrent and is deeply committed to the principles of inclusion and acceptance,” a school memo said, referring to the statue as a form of hate speech.
Inclusion! Acceptance! Get rid of sculpture that confuses us and frightens us in our confusion! Its very existence is a threat! A threat of, well, something threatening. Especially if we don’t think about what it might mean. Acceptance! Inclusion! Eleventy!!!
Tweeting under the hashtag #BlackHawkeyes, UI students and others have been blasting Tanyolacar’s sculpture and the university for initially allowing it. “This person was willing to sacrifice the mental health of all the Black students here for his own gain,”read one such tweet. Yes, his own gain like making a statement about the ongoing terror of racism-based violence.
Yep — apparently all (EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM) Black Students at a major research university are so emotionally fragile that a statue jeopardizes their very mental stability. Quick! Someone send them to Harvard Law!
Apparently bucking for the position of Pitchfork Distributor for the confused and threatened mob, David Ryfe, the director of the University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, demonstrates that he knows something about censorship — namely, that he’s for it:
“If it was up to me, and me alone,” he told The Daily Iowan, “I would follow the lead of every European nation and ban this type of speech.”
Thank God it isn’t, sir. Another fine example of ducking and covering comes from Nic Arp, the U’s
spin doctor director of strategic communications, who originally described the sculpture as “public art” in a tweet. But while that had the virtue of truth, such statements are apparently out of place on a University campus, and Arp retracted his statement and denounced himself for doubleplusungoodthink.
Man, semester break can’t come soon enough.