Mark Harris (exhibition)
Artist: Mark Harris
Date of Action: January-February 2017
Region: North America
Location: East Side Union School District, San Francisco, United States of America
Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion
Medium: Public Art
Confronting Bodies: District Superintendent Chris Funk
Description of Artwork: Each year, The African American Student Advocates at The East Side Union High School District in San Francisco organizes a display honoring and celebrating Black History Month. In 2017, Reverend Jeff Moore, co-founder of AASA and president of the San Jose/Silicon Valley Branch of the NAACP, invited San Francisco artist and educator Mark Harris to install his work in the lobby of a district office building. Harris exhibited eleven paintings which he described his selected works as "thought provoking," as they depict issues such as police brutality, slavery and racism.
The Incident: Mark Harris' works were only on display for a few hours before District Superintendent Chris Funk had them removed due to many offended and disturbed reactions to the art. Chris Funk believed Harris' visceral exploration and depiction of the painful history of African Americans in the United States to be too political for the district. He expressed that as a public institution, he did not want to advocate for one particular position or another.
Results of Incident: The National Coalition Against Censorship, partnered with the American Cilvil Liberties Union of North California, sent a letter to Superintendent Funk opposing the decision to remove the instillation and urging him to restore it. The letter argues that claims of offense are not adequate grounds for art censorship. The letter also argues that an institution's choice to display politically charged art does not implicitly indicate the institution's concurrence with the artwork's message. Rather, the display of provocative and opinionated art showcases and fosters a diverse range of perspectives. In addition to NCAC's letter, the District invited Harris to give a lecture about his work. Although the lecture was a positive attempt to ameliorate the act of censorship, it was not an adequate substitute for the experience of directly engaging with Mark Harris' provocative art.