Linn-Mar school officials support student artist after her painting is denounced as Satanic and sexually explicit

High school art exhibits usually don’t generate much interest from anyone who isn’t the proud parent of one of the artists, but an exhibition of works by students in Linn-Mar High School’s advanced art class has sparked controversy on social media, with one of the paintings being denounced as Satanic, violent and sexually explicit.

The painting features a figure with a goat-like head and the nude upper body of a woman. There’s an explanation of the imagery by the artist on placard next to the painting.

This series of artworks I created focuses on toxic relationships. By showing graphic details in my work, it’s a way of communicating how abusive relationships can affect the victim, and I explore the emotions and vulnerability of girls within relationships of this nature.

According to the artist, she was involved in “an emotionally and mentally abusive relationship.” “I used imagery I felt was appropriate for portraying what I had felt and what I’m currently still finding my way past to heal from,” she wrote.

Student painting featured in a student art exhibition at Linn-Mar High School. — photo courtesy of Linn-Mar School District

But where the artist saw emotionally vulnerability, others saw Satanic influence once the image was shared on social media earlier this week. As the image and accusations that it was inappropriate for a school exhibition spread, several concerned parents contacted Linn-Mar High and the school district, Matthew May, communications director for the Linn-Mar School District, told Little Village.

“It’s been a mixture of concerns,” May said. “Some are concerned that the art is sexual in nature [because the figure has bare breasts]. There have also been concerns about the religious aspect of it [since some are worried the goat-like head embraces Satanic imagery].” Some have also said they are worried that the image is too violent, since the figure’s body is severed in a way that exposes bones and viscera in a highly stylized manner.

Although they are giving serious attention to the concerns of the parents, the school and the district are standing behind the student and her right to artistic expression, May explained.

“We value our students’ creativity and their right to expression within a safe and secure environment,” May said. “So, what we’ve done is create is limited, open forum for that free speech in this exhibition.”

The painting will remain on display with the works by the other students in the advance class until the exhibit ends on Friday.

“The exhibit itself is displayed in what we call ‘Pride Rock,’ a commons area where students can get together outside of class and collaborate,” May said. “It’s a small display in that area, with four partitions set up, with artwork on the outside of it and artwork on the inside as well. This work is on the inside, so you have to walk inside the exhibit to see it.”

May noted, “It’s not the only image in the display that might make people uncomfortable.” He added, “We encourage people to look at these pieces and form their own opinions.”

It’s the official policy of the Linn-Mar School District to protect the right to expression of its students and to encourage respectful discussion of controversial topics. “It shall be the responsibility of licensed personnel to protect the rights of the students to study pertinent controversial issues within the limits of good taste and civility, and to allow students to express personal opinions in an appropriate and respectful manner without jeopardizing the students’ relationships with the licensed personnel,” according to the district’s policy manual.

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