Fight Censorship of Art at University of Colorado Boulder

This petition made change with 216 supporters!

The Department of Art and Art History at the University of Colorado Boulder is forcing me to remove my BFA exhibition from its current prominent location in the first floor lobby of the building to a closed room in the basement after only being on display for three days despite the fact that I had gotten approval to use the space for two weeks. I believe this amounts to an effective act of censorship. The communication I've received from the department has been unprofessional and unforthcoming, refusing to provide any specific information as to what policy I violated and how, stating only that the exhibit is "inappropriate." They have also refused to compromise by allowing me to only move select paintings. Most of the work in the exhibit is utterly benign still lifes of objects including sunflowers, coffee cups, cigarettes, books, and walls. Although the department has so far refused to provide me with any specific information as to why my work is inappropriate, it is reasonable to guess that the department is reacting to one painting out of the 20+ paintings and drawings in the exhibit. This is a painting of a noose which I believe has been taken out of context and misinterpreted in the wake of a recent news story involving the display of a noose at a Detroit auto plant in a manner clearly intended for racial intimidation. This painting was used on posters and postcards to promote the event; I designed these posters with two department employees and was given the impression that there was no problem. These posters had been displayed in the building for weeks before suddenly being removed the day before my exhibit opened. The rest of the work in the exhibit as well as my artist's statement (see below) displayed with the work make this kind of interpretation dubious. The space they want my work removed from has previously been used to display works including facsimiles of weapons including guns, axes, and swords.
This exhibit is the culmination of my career at CU and is intended to get my art in front of as many people as possible who wish to see it, including gallerists, curators, and buyers in order to help launch my career in the arts. It should be noted that it is not necessary to enter the lobby in order to access classrooms and studios should anyone wish to avoid seeing the work. Moving it to the basement will significantly reduce its exposure. The space they want me to move the work to is a closed room in the basement and is not large enough to contain all the work in the exhibit. Installing the work in the lobby took about 20 man hours; deinstalling, moving, and reinstalling the work would take at least that long. The department has not offered help with this significant labor they wish to impose on me. ADDENDUM: the building supervisor, Bill Rumley, graciously helped me with deinstalling my work from the lobby.
I believe the department is setting a bad precedent regarding free speech, and combatting this decision will benefit every student and faculty member on campus, as well as the University itself. College campuses in general and art departments in particular are meant to be places where we can explore challenging ideas.

It is unclear to me exactly who made the decision to force the removal of my work from the lobby, but overall it falls to the Department of Art and Art History. I believe all of this is a result of myself not receiving the support normally provided to BFA students, and we want to create reforms to avoid this sort of situation in the future.

Personal story
Below is my artist's statement which is displayed alongside the exhibition. I believe it makes it abundantly clear that my work is in no way promoting racism or violence.

Less Than Nothing is a collection of paintings, drawings, and sculptures created over a period of several years selected to document the development of my thinking regarding the nature of reality and human experience.
I was a math major before switching to painting, and ideas I ran into in math and physics have influenced my work as an artist. I believe there’s an inevitable suffering created by the state of human existence, because we have an egoic consciousness that creates a false sense of separation from a monist universe that is already conscious. The title Less than Nothing refers to the state of the ego as a tragic non-thing perpetually hallucinating its own existence.
The figures with bags on their heads are one way of approaching these ideas. The figures lose the individuality of their faces and their bodies begin to merge into larger conglomerate forms. With these I’m trying to explore the tension between individual and collective consciousness.
Still life has been an important idiom for me for years. I use objects as a microcosm for the whole universe: as the occult saying goes, “as above, so below.” I’m interested in how people and objects instantiate each other via their interactions. I’ve chosen examples from different periods of my experimentation with still life. I’ve become intrigued with the relationship between painting and drawing and how these modes of representation can be used to depict the experience of interacting with objects. For me painting is usually a slow and laborious process; when I draw I like to exploit the speed and irrevocability of materials like pastels and ink. My most recent still life paintings are experiments with combining these two approaches into a single image.

Today: Kaelen is counting on you

Kaelen Williams needs your help with “Fight Censorship of Art at CU Boulder”. Join Kaelen and 215 supporters today.