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York College bars public from 'potentially disturbing' racial injustice art exhibit

Written by Rick Lee/The York Daily Record | Oct 10, 2017 1:02 PM
York College 600x340.jpg

Photo by Courtesy of York College of Pennsylvania

Administration was worried that viewers would not understand artist's intent without guidance. The artist says 'you have to be able to trust people.'

Baltimore artist Paul Rucker said his artwork "is not meant to be comfortable."

"No apologies, for that," Rucker said in a phone interview from his car traveling somewhere between Baltimore and Seattle at noon on Monday.

Rucker's REWIND exhibit addressing decades of racial injustice in the United States is on exhibit at York College Galleries in Wolf Hall.

It is not, however, open to the public.

The reason for that, according to a school spokeswoman, is because the exhibit might be too disturbing, too graphic for the public to view without guidance.

Rucker said he understands the college's thought process behind limiting attendance to the exhibit to people with York College IDs and invited guests.

But, he said, at some point, "you have to be able to trust people."

Rucker said banning the public from his exhibit is a "missed opportunity" for the college to connect with the local community and possibly start a dialogue about the topic of his exhibit -- race relations in the United States.

The REWIND exhibit focuses on the history of slavery, ongoing racial discord, white supremacy and the fact that hate groups are still active in the U.S.

The art show's most eye-grabbing display is mannequins dressed in Ku Klux Klan robes that Rucker created out of colorful Kente cloth, silk and cotton fabric native to South Ghana.

Rucker said a 30-page newspaper that explains the educational intent of the exhibit also is given to people who view exhibit.

And, along with the Klan robes, the exhibit also features a "Soundless Series" of wooden sculptures, an "Excessive Use" display created with a gun and accompanying videos.

As a result, the College has limited attendance to the exhibit to campus community possessing York College IDs and to invited guests."

Rucker said on Monday that he was deeply touched by the support and reaction that York College students have shown to his exhibit.

"There is so much more to art than pretty pictures and naked guy sculptures," he said. "But, there is a learning curve in showing art like this."

Rucker, the recipient of a 2017 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, said REWIND already has shown in Ellensburg, Wash., and Ferguson, Mo., without any limitation of who could attend.

Dolheimer said college alumni have contacted the college to ask why the exhibit was being shown.

Dolheimer also said that REWIND exhibit never was promoted on the college website, although it is featured prominently on the York College Galleries website.

Dolheimer said she is unaware of the public being barred from attending any other art exhibit on display at the college campus.

The exhibit opened at York College's art gallery shortly after the neo-Nazi invasion of Charlottesville in August.

York College spokeswoman Mary Dolheimer explained on Monday that the REWIND exhibit was never intended to be open to the public.

She added that the reason the media is barred from the exhibit is because coverage likely would result in members of the public also requesting to view the exhibit.

"We knew that media coverage would bring more attendance," she said.

Without guidance through the exhibit, Dolheimer said the college was concerned that viewers would not understand the artist's purpose behind creating the exhibit.

"We were trying to prevent any sensationalism," she said.

In an email, Dolheimer provided the college's official position on the exhibit and why it was limited to the campus community and invited guests only.

"The images, while powerful, are very provocative and potentially disturbing to some," Dolheimer's statement reads.

"This is especially the case without the benefit of an understanding of the intended educational context of the exhibit.

"As a result, the College has limited attendance to the exhibit to campus community possessing York College IDs and to invited guests."

Rucker said on Monday that he was deeply touched by the support and reaction that York College students have shown to his exhibit.

"There is so much more to art than pretty pictures and naked guy sculptures," he said.

"But, there is a learning curve in showing art like this."

Rucker, the recipient of a 2017 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, said REWIND already has shown in Ellensburg, Wash., and Ferguson, Mo., without any limitation of who could attend.

Dolheimer said college alumni have contacted the college to ask why the exhibit was being shown.

Dolheimer also said that REWIND exhibit never was promoted on the college website, although it is featured prominently on the York College Galleries website.

Dolheimer said she is unaware of the public being barred from attending any other art exhibit on display at the college campus.

This story is part of a partnership between WITF and York Daily Record. 

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