Last night, the Wilson School hosted a discussion examining issues surrounding artistic expression in public spaces and respect for religious beliefs after several students and faculty members complained that an exhibition currently on display in the Bernstein Gallery of Robertson Hall's lower level is offensive to Catholics.
The exhibition, titled "Ricanstructions," is a collection of works by Brooklyn artist Juan Sanchez. It includes a work titled "Crucifix #2" in which images of naked female torsos are arranged in the shape of a cross and includes other works that feature images of Catholic religious symbols.
Last night's forum began with comments from the curator of the gallery, the artist and two students who had raised concerns about the content of the exhibition.
Sanchez discussed his background as a Puerto Rican Catholic in New York City and said that in his art, he intends to commemorate the "over 500 years of struggle of the Puerto Rican people."
Sanchez also said that symbols mean different things to different people. "Like language, symbolism is not something that is stagnant," he said. "The question of what is sacred and not sacred becomes very relative."
Elizabeth Valvano '04 said she was offended by a work in the exhibit that featured a "ripped up image" of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. "The image itself is what is sacred," she said. "The image is not a symbol for something, it's what we pray to."
Matt O'Brien '03 said that the display "desecrates real sacred objects" and the Wilson School should not have sponsored it.
O'Brien said that the exhibit was anti-Catholic and said that Catholics deserve the same protection from the University as other minorities.
He said that by removing the "offending pieces," the school would be "reaffirming its commitment to equality and fairness."
Wilson School Dean Anne-Marie Slaughter '80 apologized to the students who had "experienced real pain" because of the exhibit and reaffirmed her commitment to displaying art in the Wilson School that engages public and international affairs.
Slaughter said that the controversy surrounding this exhibit does not mean that the Wilson School will refuse in the future to exhibit "paintings that are are bound to cause offense to some," but said that the school will only display works that have educational value. She added that she intends to create a committee to make decisions regarding future exhibits.