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UK Mural To Lose Shroud, Gain New Context

Josh James
The controversial mural created by 1930s artist Ann Rice O'Hanlon hangs in the foyer of the University of Kentucky's Memorial Hall.

A Depression-era fresco in the University of Kentucky's Memorial Hall – covered up in 2015 amid controversy over its depiction of blacks and native Americans – is set to go back on display, but not before other art and materials are added.

As fresh discussions surrounding race relations and the campus climate arose last year, the Ann Rice O’Hanlon mural became a focal point with its images of African-Americans working in the fields. Then-junior Kaelin Massey was among the students who met with UK President Eli Capilouto to start a dialogue.

"That mural is a constant reminder of what Kentucky was before, you know, everyone was included," she told WUKY in 2015. "To me, it's belittling and it's showing that you can be placed back in that same instance."

Now, Capilouto writes on his blog that the committee he formed to address the artwork has recommended the mural stay put – with the stipulation that it be framed inside a larger narrative. That could include new artwork, displays, digital boards, or background on the fresco in course syllabi and event programs.

"There was also strong sentiment that this is a significant work of art that needed to be preserved for folks on our campus today but those who will follow tomorrow," UK spokesman Jay Blanton notes. "At the same time, however, it needed to be contextualized. There needed to be other art around it that told a more complete story."

Planning and fundraising will need to take place over the course of the semester to develop the additional displays. Blanton says there’s no expectation that the decision will put an end to the controversy, but he says art is also meant to educate and provoke discussion.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.
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