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April 27, 2017

Student Artwork Calls Attention to University of North Carolina’s White Supremacist Past

CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA–A student artwork at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has drawn increased attention to the school’s white supremacist past, reports Alex Arriaga of the Chronicle of Higher Education. In March, the university’s geography facilities were adorned with a plaque renaming the building after Zora Neale Hurston, the African American novelist who was a student at Chapel Hill when the university enforced segregation. Prior to 2015, the geography building was named after William Saunders, a leader of the Ku Klux Klan in North Carolina and a colonel for the Confederate State Army in the American Civil War. Student protests prompted the university to change the name to the generic Carolina Hall, over suggestions of officially renaming the building after Hurston.

The plaque was created by first-year master of fine arts candidate Jeanine Tatlock and was a faithful facsimile of other historical markers on campus. The work was quickly removed by the university. Tatlock, who is white, conceded that “this is nothing novel [she’s] doing,” and pointed to efforts since the 1970s by the Black Student Movement group to remove memorials to white supremacy from Chapel Hill. Another student group, Counter Cartography Collective, has identified the place names on campus that memorialize white supremacy.

The most prominent memorial is a statue named “Silent Sam,” a tribute to all UNC alumni who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War that avoids reference to the Confederacy, the Civil War, or slavery. Recently, the statue has been graffitied with pro-Black Lives Matter message and subsequently placed under video surveillance. An earlier work by Tatlock remade the plaque at the statue’s base to include references to its racial history.

“I think Jeanine’s work comes from a very sincere and earnest place, and she has generally been aware of her position of privilege as a white woman,” said Jina Valentine, an assistant professor in the studio art department. “Groups really should be looking to the art department for ideas on how to engage performance techniques, maybe building new monuments.” To that end, Tatlock has collaborated with the African, African American and diaspora studies department and FLOCK, a feminist collective in the university’s geography department.

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