George Floyd painting causes stir on campus of Christian university
Critics say artist Kelly Latimore’s painting, which appears to depict Floyd as Jesus Christ, is 'blasphemous'.
The scene is a familiar and sacred one to devout Catholics.
The grieving Virgin Mary holds her son Jesus Christ in her arms after his body is taken down from the cross following his crucifixion. Michelangelo famously depicted the tragedy in Pieta, the Italian artists’ 15th-century marble sculpture.
Artist Kelly Latimore’s painting Mama illustrates the same timeless Christian story while depicting the Holy Mother as a Black woman and replacing the body of Jesus with the likeness of the slain George Floyd.
The painting’s title is a reference to one of Floyd’s tragic last words as he died under the knee of ex-Minneapolis police officer and convicted murderer Derek Chauvin.
The art piece has raised eyebrows and drawn scorn from some at the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. where it is on display outside the Columbus School of Law’s Mary Mirror of Justice chapel. It has been there since February, per the New York Times.
Student government leaders passed a resolution banning additional displays of the painting, citing religious objections. The university’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, a conservative youth activism non-profit, has also started a petition to have the painting permanently removed.
So far the petition has received more than 5,000 signatures.
“The icon has no place at The Catholic University of America,” an anonymous junior at the school told The Daily Signal in November. “It is blasphemous and an offense to the Catholic faith, but it is not surprising at all that it was put there.”
Latimore, a white artist based in St. Louis, has defended the piece, which he said was commissioned by his partner, Evie Schoenherr, as “a way to mourn George Floyd.”
“In the Black community, there’s dialogue about whether continuously showing dead Black bodies is healthy,” Latimore told The Christian Century in April. “I worried about that. But several Black friends of mine told me this was needed—God being present in the dead Black body—as a way to respond so this doesn’t keep happening.”
On Nov. 24, after the painting was stolen and replaced with a smaller version, Catholic University President John H. Garvey issued a statement to students saying the school has a policy against canceling speakers and preventing speeches.
“Consistent with that policy, we declined suggestions in this case that we take the image down,” Garvey wrote. “Our ‘no cancellation’ policy does not apply only to the administration. We hope to continue to build on campus a culture that engages in thoughtful dialogue and debate, not the sort of bully tactics epitomized by this theft.”
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