Salem State University suspends art exhibit after students complained about painting of the Klu Klux Klan

An art exhibit at a Massachusetts college has been temporarily suspended after students complained about a painting that depicted members of the Ku Klux Klan. 

The digital painting by Lowell artist Garry Harley was placed in the Winfisky Gallery at Salem State University and showed Klan members in their full attire.

Another showed Jews being rounded up to be placed in a concentration camp by Nazis during the Second World War.

They were part of an exhibit titled “State of the Union” that launched November 9 – the day after Donald Trump won the White House. 

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An art exhibit at a Massachusetts college has been temporarily suspended after students complained about a painting that depicted members of the Ku Klux Klan (above)

An art exhibit at a Massachusetts college has been temporarily suspended after students complained about a painting that depicted members of the Ku Klux Klan (above)

The digital painting (above) by Lowell artist Garry Harley was placed in the Winfisky Gallery at Salem State University and showed Klan members in their full attire

The digital painting (above) by Lowell artist Garry Harley was placed in the Winfisky Gallery at Salem State University and showed Klan members in their full attire

Its intention was to highlight the hopes and concerns following one of the most divisive presidential elections in recent history, The Salem News reports.

Ken Reker, a professor in the school’s Art + Design Department and an exhibit curator, said he had the idea in September of an art show that reflected the emotions felt by some during the presidential campaign.

‘With this contentious election and the difficult dialogues that were going on, I wanted to create a show that lifted some of those hopes and concerns for people in the art world,’ the professor told the newspaper.

But the exhibit faced a backlash almost immediately after it opened with critics blasting the decision to present ‘hate’ as art.

‘I feel like it’s in the university’s best interest to have it taken down,’ student Jesse Fermin told CBS Boston.

School officials set up a forum on Monday that included students, faculty, the curator and Harley and decided to temporarily suspend the exhibi. Above, the sign placed on the gallery's door aftewards

School officials set up a forum on Monday that included students, faculty, the curator and Harley and decided to temporarily suspend the exhibi. Above, the sign placed on the gallery’s door aftewards

But others saw it as an opportunity to discuss the issues raised in the exhibit. 

‘I don’t think you should rip it down, you should confront the issue,’ Edwin Calderon told the local station. 

‘I don’t think something that gives us an opportunity as a university to discuss truths regardless of whether they’re good or bad should be dismissed.’

The Art + Design Department chair, a professor and the exhibit curator apologized in a letter to the school community.

School spokeswoman Nicole Giambusso said school officials set up a forum on Monday that included students, faculty, the curator and Harley.

After the forum, the school decided to temporarily suspend the exhibit.

Jesse Fermin (pictured) said 'it’s in the university’s best interest to have it taken down'

Jesse Fermin (pictured) said ‘it’s in the university’s best interest to have it taken down’

Lisa McBride (above), the vice president of diversity and inclusion at Salem State, said there’s no regret about the exhibit’s content and praised students for having the courage to speak up
Garry Harley (pictured) says his painting is anti-racism and was meant as a piece of social commentary

Lisa McBride (above), the vice president of diversity and inclusion at Salem State, praised students for having the courage to speak up. Harley (right) says his painting is anti-racism and was meant as a piece of social commentary

Harley says his painting is anti-racism and was meant as a piece of social commentary.

But Reker said a large part of the problem was that the exhibit offered no context for the works, besides a guestbook that some visitors may have missed.

He said that after complaints came in, he printed some of the comments artists had submitted in the guestbook and placed them next to the relevant works.

Lisa McBride, the vice president of diversity and inclusion at Salem State, said she was flooded with complaints from students.

The exhibit titled "State of the Union” launched at the university (above) on November 9 – the day after Donald Trump won the White House

The exhibit titled “State of the Union” launched at the university (above) on November 9 – the day after Donald Trump won the White House

She said one work that sparked an outcry was of a woman ‘being traumatized as if she was a victim of sexual assault.’

As a result, the exhibit was temporarily shut down – and a meeting is set for November 28 with students and faculty members to decide how to proceed.

But McBride said there’s no regret from school officials about the exhibit’s content and praised students for having the courage to speak up.

‘We know that universities – all universities – are struggling,’ she said. ‘We’re blessed that we had this just so we can talk about it.’