A high school in San Francisco may remove two 83-year old murals of George Washington and other founding fathers arguing the artwork “traumatizes students and community members.”
After standing in the hallways of the Northern California’s George Washington High School for over eight decades, the murals — painted by Russian-American communist artist Victor Arnautoff — depicting American history are no longer progressive enough. Officials argue they are offensive to Native Americans and blacks.
Arnautoff’s work was debated between December 2018 and February 2019 by a “‘Reflection Action Working Group’ that was comprised of members of the local Native American community, students, school representatives, district representatives, local artists, and historians,” Laura Dudnick, a spokesman for the district told educational watchdog The College Fix.
“At its conclusion, the group voted and the majority recommended that the ‘Life of Washington’ mural be archived and removed because the mural does not represent SFUSD values,” Dudnick continued. “The superintendent and staff are now reviewing the recommendation and considering the best course of action. At this time there hasn’t yet been any recommendation put forth before the SF Board of Education on this matter.”
The “Reflection Action Working Group” claims the murals depicting the life of president Washington, which have covered approximately 1,600 square feet of the school’s interior walls since it opened in 1936, “glorifies slavery, genocide, colonization, manifest destiny, white supremacy, oppression, etc,” the Richmond District Blog reported.
The blog goes on to detail the two “controversial” murals:
In one mural, entitled “Mount Vernon”, George Washington appears to be in conversation with another Caucasian man who gestures towards a seated African-American man holding corn, presumably a slave. In other parts of the mural, African-Americans are engaged in acts of manual labor like hauling large bales of hay and picking cotton in the fields, while Caucasian men are also laboring at other tasks with tools. Washington’s servant, who is pictured holding his horse, is also African-American. The mural is a clear depiction of slavery in the United States, and of George Washington as a slave owner.
The second panel, entitled ‘Westward Vision”, depicts Benjamin Franklin and other founding fathers looking at George Washington as he points off in the distance, while he points with his other hand to a map. On the right side of the mural, as if carrying out Washington’s call for westward expansion, frontiersmen, depicted in greyscale unlike other figures in the mural, stand over the dead body of a Native American man, signifying the genocide of Native American life and culture.
In the bottom right of the “Westward Vision” panel, a frontiersman and Native American chief sit at a campfire smoking a peace pipe. On the ground at the chief’s feet is a tomahawk, symbolizing the disarming of Native tribes. Directly above the Chief’s headdress is a broken tree limb representing broken treaties made by the U.S. government with Native Americans, and broken promises made by settlers.
One of the panels depicts Washington next to several slaves performing various types of manual labor, a YouTube video of the murals showed.
The 13-panel mural first came under fire in the late 1960s. After protesters called for its removal, the school attempted to display more “positive images of ethnic minorities, the Richmond Blog reported, by installing another set of murals titled “Multi-Ethnic Heritage: Black, Asian, Native/Latin American.”
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