An adjunct faculty member known for political art has been excluded from a faculty exhibition at Polk State College in Lakeland, Florida, after organizers asked if he could provide a less “controversial” work. The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) has joined with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) to express concern about the state of freedom of expression at Polk State College.
Serhat Tanyolacar is a Turkish-born artist and political activist who has taught at multiple colleges and universities across the United States. On his website, he explains that “using humor, satire, absurdity and parody through public provocation allows him to have the ability to be a cultural producer rather than a political commentator.” His work and style are well-known to the Polk State College Art Department that employs him as an adjunct faculty member and by the organizers of the faculty exhibition.
Earlier this year, Tanyolacar was invited to submit work for inclusion in the faculty exhibition. The invitation gave details of when to deliver art, how to submit details about the installation’s size and when the exhibition would run. No guidelines regarding theme or any sort of selection procedure were provided. Tanyolacar submitted a piece titled “Death of Innocence” which includes sexual imagery, as well as images of President Donald Trump. Two days before the artwork was due to be delivered to the exhibition space, Tanyolacar was informed that his work was “too controversial” to be included and was invited to submit other artworks. Polk State College cited the potential for high school students to visit campus in its decision. They also cited “the theme of the show,” although no theme was ever provided beyond being a faculty exhibition.
In opposing Polk State College’s decision to exclude Tanyolacar’s piece, FIRE and NCAC argue that
- Tanyolacar’s artwork should not be barred simply because it has the possibility to cause offense;
- Polk State College cannot treat members of the campus community as if they are children;
- Polk State College underestimates high school students’ ability to cope with controversial art.
The full letter to Polk State College is below.