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New York Governor Wants To Remove “Offensive” Artworks From The State Capitol

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Recently, New York’s governor Kathy Hochul announced that she is considering removing most of the famous artwork from the state’s capitol building in Albany. These mostly include historical paintings which she believes are offensive to the Native American community. The statement comes as dissatisfaction among Native Americans is increasing regarding their depiction in historical artworks.

Which Artworks Are Being Removed?

Although it’s not exactly clear which artworks will be removed from the building, there are several pieces of art that could be considered offensive. At the entrance, you are greeted by a 100 year old mural painted by William de Leftwich Dodge, one of the most renowned mural artists in New York.

Source: Angus Mordant

This mural shows a series of images covering some of the earliest battles in New York between the Indigenous people and colonizers. Native American activists have also complained about murals in the governor’s reception room, which shows New York’s early battles, the Five Nations of the Iroquois, and former President and Gov. Theodore Roosevelt.

The Artist Behind These Artworks

The two most controversial artworks at the entrance of the building and at the governor’s reception are painted by the same artist, Willian de Leftwich Dodge. Willian was best known for painting similar murals in public buildings like the Capitol.

Source: Wikimedia/ farthing2

He first came into prominence for his mural “Glorification of the Arts and Sciences” which was to mark the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World. William has also painted some other notable murals, like the Murals for the Thomas Jefferson Building in The Library of Congress and the Mural for the Algonquin Hotel in New York.

The Paintings Glorifies Violence Against Native Americans

William was renowned for murals that usually depicted historical figures like Christopher Columbus in a positive light while fighting against Native Americans. In the first painting, there are scenes of colonizers killing the indigenous people. In one scene, the script says, “Champlain Killing First Indian.”

Source: Angus Mordant

The governor is concerned and, in a recent statement, said, “Indigenous peoples, in particular, are often depicted in artworks in a manner that reflects harmful racial stereotypes and glorifies violence against Indigenous peoples. Such depictions do not reflect the values of New York State.” It is clear she wants the paintings gone.

Native Americans Feel Disgusted By The Paintings

The governor is concerned about how the paintings hurt the sentiments of Native American people. In the statement, she said, “All New Yorkers should feel welcome and respected when visiting the state capitol. Unfortunately, offensive imagery and distasteful representations of populations in the art which adorns the capitol can alienate visitors.”

Source: Wikimedia/ U.S. National Archives/ Records Administration

According to her, many Native Americans visiting the building have expressed their dissatisfaction and concerns to her administration. JC Seneca, Counselor of the Seneca Nation, who was interviewed by MSN, said he is “disgusted,” explaining, “It’s braggadocious about killing my people. They killed a lot of our people and stole a lot of our land.”

Similar Issues Raised By The Governor’s Administration In The Past

Governor Kathy Hochul has a history of raising such issues and taking action in the past. According to the governor, she wants to “leave New York as a more racially just state than she found it.” In the past, she has passed legislation aimed at addressing discrimination and racial injustice in the state. She has also claimed racism is a public health crisis.

Source: Angus Mordant

One similar reform during her tenure was to bar the public school teams from naming themselves names like the Warriors, Chiefs, Redmen, or Braves. These are Native American nicknames. In an attempt to be politically correct and “scrub racially insensitive imagery from sports teams, the state made this decision”

What Will These Art Pieces Be Replaced With?

When removing such a historical piece of art, the most obvious question is, what will it be replaced with? And Gov. Houchal might already have an answer for that. According to the State of the State book, she doesn’t just want to remove the art. She wants to replace it with something that is representative of the indigenous people.

Source: Unsplash/ Boston Public Library/ Reddit

Here is the exact statement. “To ensure that all New Yorkers are welcomed in the capitol, this year Gov. Hochul will commence a comprehensive review of artistic representation of Indigenous peoples in the capitol, with invited participation from representatives from each of the nine Indigenous Nations.”

Will The Governor Be Removing Other Paintings Too?

While the governor has not explicitly stated anything about removing other paintings, it looks like she might be considering removing other paintings that are offensive to Native Americans and other communities. In a statement, she indicated a possible assessment of other paintings.

Source: Wikimedia/ Luigi Gregori

The statement reads, “Indigenous peoples, in particular, are often depicted in artworks in a manner that reflects harmful racial stereotypes and glorifies violence against Indigenous people. Such depictions do not reflect the values of New York State.” So, she might remove other paintings that she considers offensive.

Is The Cristopher Colombus Statue Being Removed Too?

There is a big statue of Christopher Colombus on the “Million Dollars Stairs” of the State Capitol. The staircase is a true work of art that took 14 years and about $1.5 million to build, which is almost $34 million in today’s money.

Source: Wikimedia/ Navya Sriramaneni

While it is not confirmed, many people believe this is the next art to be removed from the State Capitol. In recent years, the perception of Christopher Columbus has shifted drastically due to his inhumane treatment of Native Americans. His statues are being removed across the country.

Why Is Christopher Colombus So Hated?

In recent years, awareness regarding the horrible things done by Christopher Colombus to the Native Americans has increased significantly, and the movement to not glorify him as a hero has been picking up pace. So, what exactly did Cristopher Colombus do?

Source: Wikipedia

One of the most inhumane things he and other colonizers did was enslave the indigenous people and force them to work brutally. Many indigenous people were subjected to harsh conditions, and numerous atrocities were committed. They also suppressed the indeginous culture and traditions in order to force Christianity among the native population.

The Larger Movement To “De-Glorify” Christopher Colombus

According to The Monument Lab, there were 149 statues of Christopher Columbus in 2021. He is just behind Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, who have 193 and 171. However, over the last 4 years, 36 statues of Christopher Columbus have been removed across the country.

Source: Wikimedia/ Tony Webster

The political pressure to remove these statues has existed since 1992, but the movement gained momentum in 2020 after the death of George Floyd. Some were removed by local governments, but frustrated protesters vandalized most of the statues to dismantle the many symbols of racism and colonialism that litter public spaces.

Native Americans Want All The Columbus Statues To Be Removed

For obvious reasons, Native Americans don’t like Columbus, and they want him gone. Many Native Americans view celebrating him as celebrating genocide and colonialism. They want others to stop celebrating Columbus Day and remove his statues and murals. So, removing these statues might be the next move for the governor.

Source: Wikimedia/ AgnosticPreachersKid

JC Seneca,a Native American and, Counselor of the Seneca Nation, also spoke on the removal of the Christopher Columbus statue. He said in a statement, “Columbus did a lot of rape and pillaging. They need to think about his presence in the state Capitol”

What Does The Public Think Of This?

Considering New York is a blue state, the public opinion regarding this is mostly positive, especially from New York residents. Twitter (X) users have hailed her for making the sensitive decision, and Native American activists are happy too. Seneca also said, “The governor is taking a step in the right direction. Removal of these negative portrayals has been part of discussions for many years.”

Source: Unsplash/ Clay Banks

However, this decision has been met with some criticisms too. The most significant criticisms revolve around why history is not being depicted accurately. The argument is this is a historical fact, and removing the painting does not change history. Others criticize it for not focusing on more pressing issues like homelessness and the cost of living in New York.

What Is Gov. Houchl Trying To Do Here?

Gov. Houchl has made many moves to make New York more progressive and less racist. Despite criticisms, it seems the majority of New Yorkers like the idea and support it. What’s next? It might be the Christopher statue or something else. But as many Native Americans believe, it’s definitely a move in the right direction.

Source: Kevin P. Coughlin / State of New York

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James Stafford

Written by James Stafford

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