By Renata T
A painting called Untitled #1, done by Missouri high school student David Pulphus, won a national contest and its place inside Capitol Hill since June 2016. Due to the highly symbolic and obvious messages in the painting (pictured at left), the painting has sparked huge controversies among leaders at Capitol Hill, with many, like Rep. Duncan Hunter, wanting to remove the painting from its spot in the halls of the building, and others, like Rep. William Lacy Clay, wanting to keep it there.
Representative Hunter took matters into his own hands on Friday, January 6 and abruptly decided to tear it down himself. His course of action was deemed too extreme even by his fellow representatives, who agree with him to some extent. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., a retired King County sheriff told National Public Radio, “I was a cop for 33 years, and that’s not how you solve problems.”
The primary reason those who want to see the painting gone believe as they do is because the rules of the contest state that the painting cannot depict “contemporary controversy.” Yet, the painting has already gone through this screening last July and has passed. And it is still debatable of how accurate this screening process could be, since they disqualified the winning portrait due to an undone top of a women’s shirt because it was “too racy”, which just serves as a comparison to show the kind of screening process that these pictures go through. Art is the expression of humans and humans include their anatomy and emotions to make authentic and meaningful. To censor art is to completely destroy its meaning, so having had allowed Untitled #1 to pass is extremely refreshing.
Although Pulphus is from the same town as the Michael Brown shooting, this painting represents more than just police brutality, which has happened for decades and is not a recent issue, but also other struggles and black people have faced in the past. The painting represents the constant fight for equality in the country and in the world through art, the purest form of self-expression. Maybe, the police should not be focused on how hurt the oppressors are feeling, but how the oppressed are feeling and have felt for decades. It could not be put into better words than by those of Rep. Clay, “The African-American community has had a painful, tortured history with law enforcement in this country. So let’s not ignore the fact, that that’s not contemporary. That’s historic.”
Not only does the painting represent history, but it does not do so crudely, instead it is done with expertise. The use of the animalistic depiction of the characters draws allusions to the book MAUS, a book about World War Two, depicting the characters as animals, portraying the Germans as the predators with cats and the Jews as mice.
There are also allusions to previous measures that the civil rights movement had to overcome, much like Rep. Clay observed. Off to the right side, a man is only clad in pants and is strung upon a scale. The form in which the man was strung up is strikingly similar to the way Jesus Christ was strung upon the cross. The meanings only fortified in the sense that he was not only strung up on a cross, but a scale that is the symbol of the justice system. This image skillfully is a way to call attention to the judiciary system and their “justice” towards previous cases involving black rights, and the sacrifice that the system has forced blacks to make for thousands of years.
All of these elements are able to give and represent truthfully black history, all from the perspective of a teenager, the future of the country. It allows the youth’s voice and public voice to be heard in a place where their laws are decided for them. This serves as a constant reminder to lawmakers about what matters to citizens of their country. So should we really let them tear it down, hide it for no one to see, like they have done so many times before?