Photo credit: Office of Lacy Clay

Photo credit: Office of Lacy Clay

UPDATE 1/6/2017: According to Politico, a Republican lawmaker today took the painting off the wall in the U.S. Capitol without Clay's permission. 

After Clay refused to remove the painting, a Congressman representing California, Duncan Hunter, took the matters into his own hands, unscrewing the painting from the wall in the Longworth House Office Building and leaving it with staffers in Clay's office. Hunter's action allegedly followed a closed door meeting, where Republican lawmakers “talked about how disrespectful [the painting] was to men and women who served in uniform.”

NCAC will update this post with any action in support of Clay we choose to pursue.

Original Post:

Democratic U.S. Representative from St. Louis Missouri is standing firm in support of an artwork that won a student competition to be displayed in the U.S. Capitol complex after it came under fire for what critics claimed was an anti-police message.

Back in Spring 2016, St. Louis student David Pulphus' painting 'Untitled #1' won an annual art competition for St. Louis students held by Missouri Congressman William Lacy Clay. The painting, depicting a chaotic, violent street scene in which the policemen are portrayed with animal heads, was described by Clay as "visually stunning" and is, according to the artist, intended to symbolize the injustice and inequality that was exposed during the unrest in places like Ferguson. Clay says he had no say in the decision to choose the winning entry, which is displayed in the Longworth House Office Building in the Capitol.

The painting hung for months in the Capitol building before the story went viral, when it caught the attention of the conservative blogosphere. Fox News then picked up the story, with host Eric Bolling demanding it be taken down; urging his viewers to call Clay’s office in protest.

Local St. Louis police also weighed in. The president of Police Association, Joe Patterson, has said the painting is in bad taste and that Clay is “picking at wounds that we’re trying to heal.”

Clay, however, has announced his support for the student and artistic free expression. “The U.S. Capitol is a symbol of freedom, not censorship,” he said in a statement. “The young artist chose his own subject and the painting will not be removed.”

NCAC praises Congressman Clay’s response to the criticisms of the painting. Art often provokes impassioned responses–sometimes angry, sometimes enthusiastic. As the artist David Pulphus’ father told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “art is meant to evoke emotion and a perspective.” Indeed, the message of Pulphus' painting will have particular emotional resonance during this time of frought and divisive racial and political tensions. It is therefore understandable why people may find the work offensive. However, by keeping the painting on display, Clay allows for opportunities to discuss the painting: its meaning and symbolism, potentially helping heal differences by encouraging understanding of another's perspective. This becomes an impossibility if the painting is removed. 

About the painting, Clay told the Post-Dispatch, “it tells me that this is this young man’s collective experience, and what he has dealt with on a daily basis in his community, and so he expressed that on canvas. Yes, some people find it offensive. I don’t find it offensive. I find it to be an expression of what one of my constituents is feeling about what he has experienced.”

NCAC will be looking to support Clay as developments occur.