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July 23, 2018

University of Kansas Bows to Pressure from Politicians, Removes Creative Time Flag

LAWRENCE, KANSAS—The University of Kansas in Lawrence took down the German artist Josephine Meckseper’s altered American flag, which featured a graphic of a map of a divided United States, after it faced backlash from local politicians.

According to the Associated Press, Governor Jeff Colyer and other Republican lawmakers, including Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Kansas congressional candidate Steve Watkins, pressured the institution to remove the work from its campus, calling it “disrespectful” and a “desecration” of an American symbol.

Critics of Colyer’s call to remove the flag accused the politician of violating free speech. His spokesman, Kendall Marr, defended the governor’s actions: “We didn’t go and forcibly take it down,” he said. “We let our opinion be known.”

The work, Untitled (Flag 2), was commissioned by Creative Time in New York for its project Pledges of Allegiance, which invited sixteen artists to create flags that represent issues they are concerned about in the present political climate.

In defense of its decision to move the flag from where it was installed on campus to the university’s art museum, chancellor Doug Girod said that the piece “generated public safety concerns,” but he did not provide any further details. “While we want to foster difficult dialogue, we cannot allow that dialogue to put our people or property in harm’s way,” Girod said.

In a statement provided to artforum.com, Creative Time noted that it “has a responsibility to drive hard conversations.” It added: “The right to freedom of speech is one of our nation’s most dearly held values. It is also under attack. We are proud to stand by artists who express themselves. Today’s events illustrate the same divisions in our country that the series has confronted head-on.”

Since Pledges of Allegiance launched on Flag Day last year, sixteen flags have been raised at cultural institutions and universities across the United States. Among the other artists who participated in the project are Tania Bruguera, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Marilyn Minter, Trevor Paglen, Pedro Reyes, and Nari Ward.

Meckseper’s flag, which she said is meant to show how polarized the country has become under the Trump regime, will be on view at twelve other institutions until July 31.

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