USA: Could cancel culture threaten artistic freedom on university campuses?

24 May 2019
'Silent Sam' statue destroyed
Image: ‘Silent Sam’ statue / Facebook


University campuses in the USA have been host to the emerging trend of removing artworks– historical or otherwise–in an extension of what is known as the ‘cancel culture’ movement.

Works are increasingly being censored that depict ‘cancelled’ historical figures or imagery at both administrative and student discretion. The censoring of these artworks is the result of tension between current moral standards and those present at the time the artworks were installed.

The censored works include statues of Christopher Columbus, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and most recently, student murals. According to a survey by The College Fix, Universities are seeing the removal of certain works after pressure from students, activists and the public for what they deem as ‘derogatory’, ‘disrespectful’, ‘hurtful’ and ‘racist’.

One such case includes the proposed removal of student murals from Cal State Maritime. According to The College Fix, after receiving complaints, the school President Thomas Cropper penned a letter explaining that the representation of women in the images was deemed concerning, and suggested murals would be painted over after they were photographically archived.

Cal Maritime student mural
Image: Cal State Maritime mural / Alex Bugaisky Facebook


“Serious concerns by all of these groups related to objectification, in particular, images that are vulgar, offensive and/or objectify women,” wrote Cropper as reported by The College Fix

In this instance of censorship, some 2,442 students have signed a petition to stop the removal of the works.

However, in an incident from late 2018, the student mood was decidedly more rebellious. According to The Independent, a prominent example includes the protest removal of the ‘Silent Sam’ statue at the University of North Carolina (UNC). The 1913 statue depicted a Confederate soldier. It was pulled down, kicked and vandalized by a group of protesting students who according to The Independent, chanted “I believe that we will win”.

Freemuse will continue to monitor this trend and report on the cases as they occur.


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