A painting depicting George Floyd laying in the arms of Mother Mary has angered students attending Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. I mean angry, so much so that the painting was stolen from its spot outside the law school chapel twice and students started a petition to make sure it never goes back up again.
According to the New York Times, artist Kelly Latimore fashioned the image, titled “Mama,” after the Pietra, a statue by Michelangelo of Mary holding Jesus Christ in her arms after the crucifixion. Except Jesus is purposely modeled in George Floyd’s likeness and Mary’s gaze is not fixed on her crucified son Jesus, but looking directly at the viewer.
“She’s asking, ‘What are you going to do so this doesn’t keep happening?’” Latimore said, according to the Times.
The painting was installed outside of a chapel at the law school back in February and went unnoticed for months. That was until an article was published in November by a conservative publication, the Daily Signal, about the painting, the school’s diversity and inclusion report and more. That same month, “Mama” was stolen for the first time.
Here’s more from the Times:
The university replaced it in November with a smaller copy — the school’s policy was “not to cancel speakers or prevent speech by members of the community,” the university’s president, John H. Garvey, said in a statement after the theft — but now that copy, too, has been stolen. And the student government has passed a resolution calling for further displays of the work on campus to be banned, citing religious objections.
The debate over whether a private institution has the right to display or remove work that some students find offensive is one that has rippled across the country in recent years. In 2019, students at Mary Baldwin University, a private liberal arts college in Staunton, Va., objected to an art exhibition in a university gallery that included Confederate imagery. The show was closed within 48 hours of its premiere. And earlier this year, a federal judge ruled that Vermont Law School could cover two murals that some students considered racist.
While Garvey had initially defended the decision to display the work, he apologized in a statement on Monday for the “confusion” the painting had created and pledged to think carefully about how to replace it. (An investigation into both thefts is ongoing, the university said.)
After the second theft, the school is now looking to replace the artwork with something else. Perhaps a real accurate depiction of a white Jesus?
“Many saw the figure in the arms of Our Lady as a divinized George Floyd,” a school statement issued Monday reads. “This interpretation led to accusations that the work was blasphemous, something that is contrary to the respect due God and his holy name. Regardless of your interpretation, it created needless controversy and confusion, for which I am sorry.”
Latimore is unmoved by questions of whether or not the painting depicts Jesus or George Floyd. “It’s not an either-or scenario,” he said, according to the Times. “Is it George Floyd? Yes. Is it Jesus? Yes. There’s sacredness in every person.”