The moral arc of history ideally bends towards justice but just as soon as not curves back around toward barbarism, sadism, and unrestrained chaos
Artist: Kara Walker
Date of Action: December 2012-January 2013
Region: North America
Location: Newark, New Jersey
Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion
Confronting Bodies: Newark Public Library
Description of Artwork: The 6-by-9½-foot graphite and pastel on paper is titled The moral arc of history ideally bends towards justice but just as soon as not curves back around toward barbarism, sadism, and unrestrained chaos (2010), represents black life in the South. Lynchings, the burning of a cross, Ku Klux Klan members, and sexual violence are all shown in the image.
Walker commented: “The work is not about slavery so much as it conjures horrors of reconstruction and 20th-century Jim Crow-ism and the Tea Party. I wanted to make a point about the way these images arose for many when Barack Obama (pictured at a little lectern on the mid-left) gave his national speech on race. And the many times he invokes his or his wife’s heritage to make an ideological point about American patriotism, which in some way grants permission to the ghosts of racist terrorism to be reimagined—here with KKK hooded figures, lynched bodies and sexual violence—and these should be horrible to behold, and should feel both familiar and uncomfortable.”
The Incident: An artwork by Kara Walker on loan to the Newark Public Library from Scott London, a New York-based art collector, offended some library employees, especially African-Americans, who requested its removal. The drawing was then covered with a cloth: the piece was installed Nov. 19, and hidden by Nov. 24.
Results of Incident: Library director Wilma Grey uncovered the drawing. “I’m going to leave it that way,” Grey said. “Several people have suggested I turn this into a teaching moment. Most librarians are very much opposed to censorship and I’m in that camp. We’ll have a staff meeting very soon. There’s so much for people to learn about Walker and her work and about intellectual freedom.” (Art in America, Dec 11, 2012).
Library officials then planned to create an informational handout at the library, and open a discussion about the work with employees to stir debate and spur conversation.
Kara Walker Artwork Censored at Newark Library, by Brian Boucher. Art in America, Dec 11, 2012
Kara Walker and Wilma Grey on Free Expression, NCAC, Nov 20, 2013