THE RED, WHITE AND BLUE
decorates town hall
Flag with swastika among works critical of president on display
Posted: July 13, 2003
7:18 p.m. Eastern
A town-hall art exhibit featuring an American flag with a swastika and a bomb appearing to come out of President Bush's head is sparking heated debate in Carrboro, N.C.
According to local news reports, the politically themed display has prompted the removal of one item from a high-profile location, and remarks from municipal workers and visitors to the local center of government who feel the artwork is anti-American.
"I've heard a lot of town employees talk about the show, and I haven't heard a single one say anything positive about it," one town employee told the Chapel Hill News. "People are upset. I don't care for the show, either. We have to be here all day with it, and we have to deal with the people who come in to complain about it. What bothers me is that people assume that because it's in town hall it represents all of us. It definitely does not."
The Durham Herald Sun quoted another worker upset about the display: "It seems like the art is always of controversy and leaning toward the same thing – those not in support of our country."
The works which are critical of the Bush administration are the creations of local artist Hunter Levinsohn and are slated to be on display by the Carrboro Art Committee through Sept. 15.
"The art committee thinks it's more liberated and says it stands for peace and love," the employee told the Chapel Hill News. "But that piece with President Bush and cabinet members with the bombs and everything, that doesn't represent peace and love. Art in a workplace should be pleasant and attractive, not this kind of thing."
The "Bush Bomb Bag" shows an image of the president with a host of toy warplanes and bombs.
Another work called "Wolf in Sheep's Clothing" features the face of Bush peering out of a wall hanging in the shape of a sheep's face.
"Security Alert Purse With Tom Ridge Paper Doll & 6 Outfits" includes an outfit for each color in the terror-alert system along with an outfit made of plastic and duct tape.
The piece with a swastika on Old Glory, titled "Trying to Make Black and White Out of the Red, White and Blue," was actually created in 1990 during the term of George H.W. Bush when a constitutional amendment against burning or damaging the U.S. flag was proposed.
"The flag is a symbol of American freedom and justice," Levinsohn, who is Jewish wrote in a statement responding to the controversy. "The flag amendment seemed to me to be an assault on our First Amendment right to freedom of speech. It seemed to violate the very freedom the flag symbolizes. The piece was intended as a protest against the flag amendment.
"The swastika has to do with trying to get across the idea I was trying to get across on that issue. It has nothing to do with my feelings about the flag or the country."
Levinsohn considers herself patriotic and even wore red, white and blue down to her shoes last week. On her website, she gives a hint as to why so much of her work is political in nature.
"I've often thought that one of my prime responsibilities as an artist is to point out when the emperor is wearing no clothes," Levinsohn says.
Carrboro Mayor Mike Nelson was originally out of town when the exhibit was first displayed, and when complaints started flowing in about the flag with the swastika hanging on the boardroom wall, he approved its removal but agreed to hang it in his own office.
"I think the show is the best we've ever had in town hall," Nelson told the Chapel Hill News. "In the context of what the artist was doing, this is a very strong piece of art. I like it. My initial reaction is to leave it in my office. I'm fine with it being hung wherever."
Not every town employee shares the mayor's enthusiasm.
Annette Rogers, a black employee in the payroll department, said she found the image of the swastika offensive, even after talking with Levinsohn about freedom of speech.
"I looked at it and thought Nazis and skin heads and prejudice," Rogers told the Herald Sun.
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