Public art forum brings together students and faculty to discuss intellectual freedom and artistic expression

Adriene Lim is the Dean of Libraries at the UO, and she thinks that the question of whether or not to keep the murals in Knight Library isn’t a black and white issue.

“We stand for intellectual freedom,” said Lim. “But we also stand for social justice and social responsibility, and we care a lot about diversity and inclusion.”

Lim is hosting “Public Art, Cultural Memory, and Anti-Racism,” a forum where interested students, faculty, staff and community members can provide input and discuss plans on what to do with certain artwork in Knight Library. The forum will be from 3:30 to 5 p.m. and will be located in the Knight Library Browsing Room.

Lim created the Knight Library Public Art Task Force in 2017 to provide the UO community with the historical context surrounding artworks in Knight Library and to give community members more opportunities to respond to the art while “upholding the university’s values of intellectual freedom and artistic expression,” according to the UO Libraries website.

Francesca Smith is the leader of a student group that spearheaded an effort to petition for the removal of a mural in the west stairwell of Knight Library, and she’s one of two student representatives on the task force along with Abha Joshi, a member of Smith’s group.

Smith said that the event is kicking off the start of the task force, and that the event will be “an open and safe place to talk about… public art and anti-racism.”

Joshi said that she wanted to get involved because it “felt weird” to her to see the mural.

“I know that the university is very inclusive, but reading stuff that pertained to ‘keeping a racial heritage’ and stuff like that, especially as a person of color,” Joshi said. “For me, if I can do something about this and at least bring awareness to the issue, I should be doing it, because it’s something that I believe in.”

“I think of it as a microaggression,” Joshi said of the mural. “It’s the fact that something like this mural that talks about racial heritage and stuff; the fact that it still exists is not okay. Even if the university has moved on from it and people are no longer like that, I think that it’s still important to address the issues that we’ve had in the past so we can have an open discussion about them.”

Professor and head of the UO Ethnic Studies department, Dr. Laura Pulido, will be speaking at the event. Pulido studies how racial, class and gender hierarchies shape places and “how places inform racial and economic processes,” according to her website.

Pulido said that she wasn’t surprised by the mural’s content when she first saw it, as she’s seen these symbols of “hegemonic white supremacy” before.

“It didn’t strike me as particularly unusual,” Pulido said. “These are honorifics. These are celebrations. These are symbols which are given an elevated status even though they embody deep forms of white supremacy.”

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Ryan Nguyen

Ryan Nguyen

Ryan ("Nayr" ) Nguyen is the podcast editor. He's a sophomore who is studying journalism and computer information technology, aka making pretty websites.

Big fan of fans, $300 textbooks and the Oxford comma.

Contact me with tips, weird story ideas or questions at [email protected]