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Controversial painting at UAA gallery sparks ‘spirited discussions’

By Megan Edge 11:48 AM April 19, 2017

A painting hanging in an art gallery at the University of Alaska Anchorage has “sparked spirited discussions” about whether or not it’s appropriate to hang at the public university, according to UAA chancellor Tom Case.

“Everything” by artist Thomas Chung. (Shannon Ballard / KTVA)

The painting, “Everything,” by Thomas Chung, makes political and religious statements. It depicts a naked man — actor Chris Evans, who recently appeared as Captain America — with blurred out genitals, holding in one hand a white sign, with red lettering that states, “Man did not weave the web of life. He is merely a stand in it.” In the other hand the man is holding the head of President Donald Trump by his hair, as blood drips down from his neck.

Longtime U.S. politician and presidential hopeful in the last election, Hillary Clinton, is posed around the naked man’s leg, dressed in a white pant suit. Behind the man, are two large birds, grey wings spread wide, like they’re a part of the man’s shoulders.

“We understand that some may not support this exhibit, but universities — including UAA — are a place for free exchange of ideas, diversity of thoughts and of opinions, and ideally, a place for conversation to occur around our differences and similarities,” Case said in a written statement. “Freedom of expression is fundamental to our mission and we support our faculty and students in exploring their ideas through creativity, research and scholarship.”

University of Alaska president Jim Johnsen echoed a similar sentiment in an emailed statement.

“The art installation at UAA that has sparked recent concern and debate has people asking whether a public university should be home to controversial, or even offensive, ideas. My answer: A vital and vibrant university, regardless of the campus, must be a place of ideas, opinion, and debate. A place where the most controversial ideas abound, and where assumptions and positions are openly tested.

“Meaningful ideas and debates are often informative and, sometimes, unsettling. Throughout history, ideas and points of view that were controversial, even abhorrent or offensive at the time, have upset the status quo and led to significant advances in science, art, and understanding of the human condition. On other occasions, what we now think of as controversial and abhorrent ideas were once widely accepted,” Johnsen said.

Johnsen continued to argue the importance of art in education, as well as support for university students to express themselves, and to continue to spark meaningful conversation.

“Not all ideas, opinions or artistic expressions stand the test of open debate or time,” Johnson wrote. “The dust bin of history is filled with such ideas. But ideas that we profoundly disagree with may be the very ideas needed to broaden our understanding of the world around us. I can think of no better place in a free society than a university to test ideas, especially those that are highly controversial and objectionable, through open and rigorous debate.”

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