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UI President Sally Mason releases statement on Pentacrest statue, artist offers apology


University of Iowa President Sally Mason released a statement Sunday in light of the controversial art display that appeared Friday on the Pentacrest, noting that the statue made some community members feel “terrorized,” and that “the university’s response was not adequate, nor did that response occur soon enough.”

The statue — which depicts the likeness of a Ku Klux Klan figure adorned in newspaper clippings depicting incidents of discrimination and racism — prompted an outcry from community members when it appeared on the UI campus Friday morning. The statue’s creator, Serhat Tanyolacar, apologized later that day and wrote that his sole purpose was to “[raise] awareness over racism, prejudice, racial supremacy and all violance embodied in these ideologies.”

Mason, meanwhile, plans to meet with students, faculty and community members this Wednesday to discuss a “plan of action.” Mason wrote, “I intend to move quickly to form a committee of students and community members to advise me on options including strengthening cultural competency training and reviewing our implicit bias training, as we move forward.”

Read Mason’s full statement:

Dear Members of the University Community:

The goal of the University of Iowa, as a higher-education institution, has always been to provide an environment where all members of our campus community feel safe and Friday, we failed. On the morning of December 5, 2014, a 7-foot tall Ku Klux Klan effigy with a camera affixed to the display was installed without permission on our campus. The effects of the display were felt throughout the Iowa City community. That display immediately caused Black students and community members to feel terrorized and to fear for their safety.

The university’s response was not adequate, nor did that response occur soon enough. Our students tell us that this portrayal made them feel unwelcomed and that they lost trust in the University of Iowa. For failing to meet our goal of providing a respectful, all-inclusive, educational environment, the university apologizes. 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.

I urge any student who was negatively affected by this incident who feels a need for support to consider contacting the University Counseling Service at 335-7294.

I will meet with students and others when I return this Wednesday to prepare a detailed plan of action that will include input from people who were impacted by Friday’s incident about how the UI can better meet its responsibility to ensure that all students, faculty, staff, and visitors are respected and safe. I intend to move quickly to form a committee of students and community members to advise me on options including strengthening cultural competency training and reviewing our implicit bias training, as we move forward.

Please join me in the important work ahead.

Sally Mason
President
University of Iowa

 
Tanyolacar, who created the sculpture in 2010, issued his own statement via Twitter on Monday.

The Turkish-born and visiting Grant Wood fellow at the School of Art and Art History apologized for the pain and confusion he caused, saying his intention was to “promote widespread awareness on racism and prejudice issues.” He also says that he is not a racist, but an artist and “the father of a mixed-race eight-year-old boy.”

Tanyolacar went on to discuss his participation in various racism awareness projects before explaining the statue itself. He says he meant to “display the very existence of the racist ideology even under a mask” and to be “a symbol which its current existence has been avoided by many in our society in contemporary times.”

Read Tanyolacar’s full statement:

First of all I sincerely apologize for the pain and suffering I caused to the African American Community on Friday. I am hoping that I will be able to be forgiven for the pain I have caused with my sculpture.

I deeply appreciate all the community members whom I have been able to speak with since Friday. I have a deeper understanding of how to better be an ally by moving forward together in the shared goals to eradicate racism.

My name is Serhat Tanyolacar, and it’s clear that people do not know who I am. My display of the public sculpture on the Pentacrest last Friday has caused people to assume that I am a racist, and I think that I did not properly explain who I am or what the purpose of the artwork was. I am an artist, but I am first and foremost the father of a mixed-race eight-year-old boy. I met my son’s mother when she was stationed in Turkey 14 years ago, and although I had researches on race relations in America before my child was born, I got to see first-hand what his life might be like when we moved to Clarksville, Tennessee, where she was stationed. When I was living in Tennessee I had the opportunity to observe and face the racism and prejudice in other places, especially in the Southern part of America. Before moving to Iowa City I lived in Florida where Trayvon Martin was killed. After the court decisions on Michael Brown and Eric Garner I had even more reason to make an immediate work where I wanted to facilitate a dialogue with a community on a college campus who seemed open to talking about racial matters.

Before installing a sculpture on the Pentacrest I participated in a wide-spread exhibition project, which was titled “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot: Artists Respond” in St. Louis, Missouri. Since Michael Brown was murdered in Ferguson I have been able to travel to St. Louis and create dialogues with community leaders, journalists and artists from St. Louis area. I want to continue these dialogues and support people’s fight against injustice and racism in America.

On Friday December 5, 2014 I installed a sculpture piece on the Pentacrest, Iowa City. The sculpture was in a modified and altered KKK robe form. I screen printed articles from American newspapers (relating) the horror and violence in racist ideology; the newspaper articles start with Tulsa Race Riot and end with Holocaust Museum Shooting which happened in 2010. The hood on the robe is made of transparent vinyl and again there are screen printed images on the surface. The purpose of using a transparent material for the hood is to display the very existence of the racist ideology even under a mask. Furthermore, the mask that the people use in their racist and prejudice ideology only emphasizes their racism, not to hide it. All newspaper articles are printed with tar as screen printing ink. My hope was to display the sculpture as a symbol which its current existence has been avoided by many in our society in contemporary times. I used this sculpture in a performance piece which I enacted in Washington DC in 2010 as my response to the Holocaust Museum Shooting.

My intention again with this sculpture was to promote widespread awareness on racism and prejudice issues which were embodied on this symbol. Very unfortunately I was not able to execute my intention in the way I was expecting it to happen and the sculpture hurt many people deeply. I sincerely apologize to all the people who got hurt and scared by the existence of this sculpture on Friday. I believe that the sculpture and the following reactions have been able to open a dialogue opportunity to address the issues of racism. I am ready to heal the suffering which i caused due to the fact that I did not consider the impact of this sculpture piece over the entire community. As an educator, socio-political activist and artist I am hoping to create many constructive dialogues with the African American Community now and growing those dialogues further more.

Serhat Tanyolacar

 
The School of Art and Art History will also host a forum held at the Iowa Memorial Theater in the IMU tonight at 7 p.m. Professor Steve McGuire will moderate the discussion, emanating from campus discussion regarding how controversial art is discussed and displayed in public.


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