Writer Sues to Stop Removal of University of Kentucky Mural

Students protested 1934 fresco's depiction of enslaved people
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 7, 2020 7:00 PM CDT
Writer Sues to Stop Removal of University of Kentucky Mural
In this Aug. 15, 2018, photo, artist Karyn Olivier creates contextual art around the University of Kentucky's controversial 1930s mural, seen on the wall in the background, in Memorial Hall in Lexington, Ky.   (Charles Bertram/Lexington Herald-Leader via AP, File)

The University of Kentucky announced last month that it will be removing a controversial 1934 mural showing scenes from the state's history. Not so fast, says writer Wendell Berry. The author is suing to keep the fresco where it is, arguing that it is owned by the public, not the university, and that it can't be removed safely, the Louisville Courier-Journal reports. Black student organizations have long called for the mural to go, saying its depiction of enslaved Black people picking tobacco is a painful reminder of the past. Berry's wife, Tanya Berry, is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit. Her aunt, Ann Rice O'Hanlon, created the 40-foot Memorial Hall mural as part of a New Deal program to help unemployed artists. The lawsuit says she is the artist's oldest living heir, reports the AP.

Berry, 85, attended the university in the 1950s. His lawsuit says the mural can't be safely removed because it is part of the building, and the "plaster is an inherent part of the lobby walls on which it is painted." The New York Times reports that Black artist Karyn Olivier, who was commissioned to create an artwork in response to the mural, says that if the mural comes down, her work should also be removed. Her "Witness" artwork reproduced the Black and Native American figures in the mural on the gold-leafed dome of the vestibule. "My work is dependent on the history," and the move to "censor" the mural would censor her own work, she tells the Times. University president Eli Capilouto, however, says leaving the mural in place has been a "roadblock to reconciliation" and efforts to contextualize it "haven't worked, frankly." (More University of Kentucky stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.