According to Heritage Hall office administrator Kelly Williams, “It was supposed to be a group exhibit for Troy University’s communication/fine arts/design program. There were nine artists that contributed, and the theme was ‘A Sense of Place.’ There was a piece by Ed Noriega that showed cans of Ajax, I guess, that had been relabeled, and had swastikas on the top. There were also some digitally altered images of the Virgin Mary holding a dead chicken in one hand and a broom and dust pan in the other. But the biggest problem was with the swastikas.”
When Williams contacted the school, she was told that if one of the artists was not allowed to display his work, then the other contributors would withdraw theirs as well. “The board was unanimous,” she said. “We told them to come pick up the show.”
The pieces Noriega submitted were all meant to comment on HB 56, the controversial state immigration law. Aside from the cans of “ethnic cleanser” and the two pictures of the Virgin Mary, the images include a plate with the phrase “Feed Us and Go Home” on it and a menu with a Spanish obscene phrase written on the front of it.
Williams said that “the pictures were very political, against the immigration law. But without the swastikas, we still would have shown it.”
Heritage Commission president George Hartsfield agreed. “Parts of it were just offensive to everyone who came through. They had German swastikas on there. We wanted to take that one out, and they got into a huff and said we had to show the whole thing or none of it. We had seven people unloading them, and they were all offended. I’m just not going to display a swastika. That would be like putting up an image of a Klansman, and I’m not going to do it.”
Noriega said, “I just submitted the works, the board reviewed them, and they said they weren’t interested. There were swastikas and some religious iconography involved. When the board said they wanted my work pulled, the faculty agreed unanimously to pull the whole show, in solidarity.”
He went on to explain that “the work deals with HB 56, and it is unfortunate that the board found it offensive. To me, it is HB 56 that is offensive. And preventing an artist from presenting his work by stifling and censorship is offensive, archaic and barbaric. But, on the other hand, I also have to thank the board for opening up new avenues for my work.”
“A Sense of Place” was scheduled to open Jan. 20. After the event was cancelled, it was replaced with works from the museum’s permanent collection by Frances Upchurch, Willmary Elliot and Jane Kirk. It runs through February.
Contact Chris Norwood at email@example.com.