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Painting In Carrboro Town Hall Stirs Controversy

Nazi Symbol Outrages Employees, Citizens

POSTED: 4:34 p.m. EDT July 14, 2003
UPDATED: 5:26 p.m. EDT July 14, 2003

Is it freedom of expression or an expression of hate? A controversy is brewing in Carrboro over a piece of artwork that used to hang in the mayor's office.

A painting of a swastika, the symbol of Nazism, embedded in the American flag was once on display behind Carrboro Mayor Mike Nelson's desk in Town Hall.

Controversial Painting

Some citizens are outraged, claiming it is offensive and a defamation of the flag.

"We have no say so as to what they put on the walls; we are expected to just deal with it. I guess they expect us to walk around with blinders on," Annette Rogers, a Carrboro Town Hall employee, told NBC 17.

Initially, the piece was hung in boardroom during an anti-war art exhibit, but was then moved to the mayor's office.

Rogers said she considers it offensive no matter where it hangs.

"I've always been taught it represents hate. I feel like it is not artwork that needs to be displayed in a government building," Rogers said.

The controversy has begun to take a grip on the township as well, with at least one citizen calling for the mayor's resignation.

Todd Melet was so offended; he began a petition to recall Nelson.

"When you take the swastika and deface the American flag, it's a double outrage to an American-Jew," said Melet. "I don't approve of having leadership in Town Hall that believes that this is acceptable."

NBC 17 was unable to reach Nelson, who is in Mexico studying Spanish until the end of the month, for a comment.

The town manager is on vacation and Assistant Town Manger Bing Renichk said she would not comment on the controversial artwork.

The artist behind the controversy, Hunter Levinsohn -- a Jew -- told NBC 17 the piece has been misinterpreted. She said it was designed to question American "freedoms."

"The swastika represents a minority of people who have a very narrow vision of what the world should be like... I did not want my country to become like that," said Levinsohn.

Still, some town employees have made it clear that they consider the exhibit anti-American and believe they have the right to request that it be removed.

For now, the controversy has forced the painting to be taken down; it currenty rests behind the mayor's door until he returns from abroad.

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