Kennesaw State University’s new Zuckerman Museum of Art opened last week amid controversy over the censorship of an installation by Welch School of Art & Design Professor Ruth Stanford. KSU President Daniel Papp deemed A Walk in the Valley to be overly political and inappropriate for the “celebratory atmosphere of the Museum’s opening.” Papp demanded that the work be removed prior to the exhibition opening.
A Walk in the Valley refers to the 56-acre parcel of land KSU recently received as a donation. The land was formerly owned by Corra White Harris, one of Georgia’s most well-known writers of the early 20th century. The controversial piece of this story is that Harris’ first published work was an article she wrote for The Independent in which she espoused a pro-lynching point of view.
In an effort to go beyond the headlines, Professor Stanford extensively researched Harris and her works. She found that the early piece in The Independent was not a complete picture of a writer who was complex and, at times, contradictory. Stanford felt that these layers of complexity made the parcel of land and its previous owner ripe for artistic inquiry.
It is uncertain at this point whether Professor Stanford’s work will be reinstalled, even though a petition supporting its reinstallation was recently delivered to the KSU administration. This story highlights some of the questions that are central to our understanding of art and its role in society. Must art only be “celebratory”? Or can art do more by forcing viewers to step back and examine a complex issue more deeply?
Here are some suggested further reading options on this story and questions of art, society, and censorship:
- Outrage: Art, Controversy, and Society edited by Richard Howells, Andreea Deciu Ritivoi, and Judith Schachter
- Censoring Culture: Contemporary Threats to Free Expression by Robert Atkins and Svetlana Mintcheva
Location: Library North 4 | Call Number: NX180.F74 C46 2006
- “Opinion: A Former University President on the History of Art Censorship” by Lloyd Benjamin III, President Emeritus of Indiana State University (Burnaway)
- “KSU’s Gift Horse” by Scott Henry (Creative Loafing)
- “Opinion: Censorship at KSU’s Zuckerman Museum a black cloud over grand opening” by Catherine Fox (ArtsATL)
- “UPDATED: KSU Censors Art as the Zuckerman Museum Prepares to Open” by Stephanie Cash (Burnaway)
- “NCAC demands Papp remove ‘pall of censorship’ from new Kennesaw State University museum” (National Coalition Against Censorship)
- Books by Harris in the Georgia State University Library
- Digitized copies of The Independent (part of HathiTrust)