The Path Forward in “Life of Washington” Mural Controversy

August 4th, 2019 No Comments »

The sprawling digital panorama, “in Pursuit of Venus [infected],” by indigenous artist Lisa Reihana, animates the story of Captain Cook and “first contact” by reinterpreting an 1804 French wallpaper by Joseph Dufour. It will be on view in San Francisco at the de Young Museum from August 10, 2019 thru January 5, 2020.

On June 25, the San Francisco School Board unanimously voted to paint over — or, if too costly and time-consuming, cover with panels — Victor Arnautoff’s 1936 “Life of Washington” mural cycle at George Washington High School. Despite Arnautoff’s intent to expose racial injustice and genocide countenanced by this country’s first president, his depictions of Native Americans and African Americans in the sprawling fresco have been targeted by activists as deeply offensive, demeaning, and traumatic to students, especially to students of color.

The school board’s decision in June initiates a lengthy environmental review process that must evaluate a range of potentially feasible, less harmful alternatives to destruction. Although Heritage adamantly opposes the school board’s desire to paint over and destroy the entire “Life of Washington” mural, we support their guiding objective to protect and educate students. In April 2019, we submitted a memo to the school district that suggests multiple potential paths forward, including case studies that combine screening, interpretation, education, and/or new artwork. Then and now, Heritage’s goal is to provide the school district with a range of technical options to facilitate a constructive and unifying solution. Click here to review Heritage’s memo to SFUSD.

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