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To start by placing this story in context: the freshman class at the University of Iowa is 3.2 percent black, and it's the school's most diverse class since it was founded in 1847, according to University President Sally Mason. That's the kind of environment where a visiting art professor thought it was OK to install a 7-foot-tall sculpture of a KKK robe without permission.
According to The Huffington Post, students, faculty, and staff held a UI African American Council meeting last night to discuss the sculpture and to call for "progress on broader issues such as the recruitment, hiring and treatment of minority students and employees." One graduate student said that the sculpture has been giving her nightmares since it was installed last week, and an adjunct instructor shared that it "left him feeling afraid and alone, and he's since slept with chairs against the door of his home."
The Huffington Post says that the artist, Serhat Tanyolacar, made the piece to "raise awareness about racism in the United States" and that he chose to display it at UI with a camera to record reactions as a way to "show solidarity with students who have been protesting police brutality." Tanyolacar has taken to Twitter to defend himself as an artist and to issue an apology to the black community.
As an artist and activist defending human rights for his entire life I am utterly saddened today.— serhat tanyolacar (@artserhat) December 5, 2014
I have fought against racism, prejudice , bigotry, injustice and inequality for my life— serhat tanyolacar (@artserhat) December 5, 2014
I apologize and am deeply sorry for anger and confusion I might havecaused today due to a public art work solely focusing raising awareness— serhat tanyolacar (@artserhat) December 5, 2014
My sole purpose again was and is raising awareness over racism, prejudice, racial supremacy and all violance embodied in these ideologies— serhat tanyolacar (@artserhat) December 5, 2014
All I have right now sadness as my feelings as an activist, as an artist, as a human rights defender. I am very very sorry.— serhat tanyolacar (@artserhat) December 5, 2014
Right now I apologize for the fear and pain I caused and there is no word to explain how I feel at this moment— serhat tanyolacar (@artserhat) December 5, 2014
The school ordered the removal of the sculpture after receiving complaints, and President Mason apologized for the late response. "All of us need to work together to take preventive action and do everything we can to be sure that everyone feels welcome, respected, and protected on our campus and in our community," she said.
She also announced that the school would be meeting with concerned students and that a committee would be formed to "study changes that could include strengthening cultural competency and implicit bias training."
[via Huffington Post]