Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Art and Tyranny, Part 2

A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog post about how tyrants like to control artists and artistic expresson in their countries. Specifically, I was talking about Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and Kim Jong-il in DPRK.

To that list, we can now add Paul LePage, governor of Maine. Well, okay, he's not exactly a tyrant, being the duly elected leader of the state, but he is a plus-size jackass, if stories like this one are true.

The governor has had removed from the state's Labor Department headquarters an 11-section, 36-foot mural depicting scenes from Maine's history of labor relations. Click here for a panel by panel view.

The reason? "I’m trying to send a message to everyone in the state that the state of Maine looks at employees and employers equally, neutrally and on balance. And the mural sends a message that we’re one sided, and I don’t want to send that message," said LePage in a radio interview.

The removal was prompted by complaints from "several business officials", but the only verifiable one was an anonymous fax that reads in part:
I felt for a moment that I was in communist North Korea where they use these murals to brainwash the masses.

1) True, communist governments like to present an idyllic view of communism in art, and a negative one of capitalism (I visited the awesome Propaganda Poster Art Museum on my visit to Shanghai last year).
2) But mostly, such scenes are highly idealised or not even based on fact. The mural in question is thoroughly fact-based, depicting real scenes from Maine's past.
3) And more frequently, tyrants use art--or indeed remove it--in their attempt to rewrite history to serve their own ends. Sorry, Guv, Maine has a mixed labor relations history: learn from it, deal with it, honor it, don't try to hide it in an undisclosed location.

For a few words from artist Judy Taylor, visit Bangor Daily News.