WASHINGTON — A Missouri congressman and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus plan to rehang this week a student painting depicting a police officer with a boar-type head after an angry GOP congressman took it down.
The annual Congressional Institute art competition solicits entries from high school students each spring. Students submit works of art to their congressional offices, and teams of artists representing the district pick the winners, which are displayed in the Capitol for a year.
The controversial winner is from Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay’s (D-Mo.) district, which includes the city of St. Louis and northern areas of St. Louis County.
The painting, “Untitled #1” by Cardinal Ritter High School grad David Pulphus, had been hanging in a House walkway among other contest winners since June. On Friday, after learning about the painting’s depiction from Twitter, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) took it down.
But Joe Kasper, chief of staff for Hunter, told the San Diego Union-Tribune that despite the “very strong statement” and “outpouring of support” surrounding the painting’s removal, the congressman wouldn’t take down the painting again if his colleague decided to put it back up.
“He gets along really well with Lacy Clay, who’s four doors down from us,” Kasper said. “This isn’t anything personal. It’s not about him or Hunter.”
Today Clay’s office said it’s going back up in a media event.
On Tuesday at 10 a.m. in the Canon Tunnel, Clay along with Congressional Black Caucus chairman Cedric Richmond (D-La.), Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.) and other unspecified members of the CBC and Congressional Arts Caucus will rehang the painting.
“After months of being on public display and being viewed peacefully by thousands of congressional staffers and the public, it was removed without permission or proper authority” by Hunter, Clay’s office said.
“The rehanging of this painting for public view represents more than just protecting the rights of a student artist, it is a proud statement in defense of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression to every American.”
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he’d try to pass a resolution to remove the painting if Clay put it back up.
“It is just a sick demonstration of a piece of our culture that is not patriotic, it does not support American values, and undermines the cultural continuity of the United States of America,” King said. “And Lacy Clay should have stepped up and taken that kind of leadership. But he is fomenting that kind of hatred.”
Clay, though, told the paper that the painting reflected the artist’s reality.
“The bigger conversation we should be having is, ‘Why does this kid feel that way?’” Clay said. “Nobody wants to address that.”
Before Hunter took the painting into his own hands, Clay sat down to discuss the law enforcement point of view with former King County sheriff Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.).
“He told me about how when they put on that uniform they feel like family, whether they are black, white or indifferent,” Clay said. “I respect that. I said, ‘Every community wants great policing. We all respect good police.’”
But, he added, “You can’t really say, ‘Hey, every cop is good.’ That is the impression the (artist) is making. Like his father is saying, it was meant to invoke emotion.”