A high school student’s mixed media artwork depicting a police officer as a pig was pulled from public viewing just days before its would-be debut at a Cincinnati art fair on May 5 after some community members complained.
The piece — which features a drawing of a pig dressed as a police officer in the foreground and a collage of newspaper clippings related to police brutality in the background — was on display at the Madeira Municipal Building. There, a local named Kellie Gantzer Williams spotted the portrait, which was done by an unidentified Madeira High School student, and reported it to Madeira Schools superintendent Kenji Matsudo.
“I’ve wrestled with whether or not to post this,” Gantzer Williams wrote. “I support free speech and pouring your feelings into artwork. But this goes way beyond that, it promotes hatred and divisiveness. I just can’t believe this is hanging in a local municipal building.”
Gantzer Williams included Matsudo’s written response to her complaint, in which he apologized and confirmed the artwork would be taken down from the Municipal Building and removed from the art fair.
“Police officers and those in law enforcement deserve and demand our respect as they serve to protect our communities,” Matsudo wrote.
“I’ve spent the last several hours looking into the ‘how’ or ‘why’ this piece made it into the art show,” he continued. “For everyone’s benefit, until those questions are answered, the organizers of the art fair took the artwork down prior to the show this morning … I can assure you that it does not represent my views or the overwhelming majority of our student body or staff.”
The offending artwork was one among dozens of creations by Madeira students of various ages, according to The Enquirer. City manager Tom Moeller expressed that, in light of this controversy, the vetting process for art fair contenders would be amended going forward.
“In the past, we have never seen a reason, or never came across a reason, to inspect what is being displayed in the municipal building,” Moeller told The Enquirer. “That’s one thing we’re going to discuss with the Madeira Schools. When this piece was apparently first noticed, our police department was notified. We, in turn, notified Madeira Schools. They reacted quickly and had it removed before the show actually started.”
The work was created in response to an assignment asking student artists to read the news then interpret and visually summarize what they’d learned.
“I don’t know that [the student] intended it to be anything other than ‘this is my assignment.’ I don’t know that he was making any political statement,” Matsudo said. He concluded that if the MadeirasSchool board had it to do over again, they “would have paused and put up a different piece of art.”
Representatives from the Madeira Woman’s Club, which organizes the art fair, were the ones to formally request the work, according to Matsudo. Yahoo Lifestyle has reached out to the Woman’s Club for further comment.
Matsudo said that the decision to remove the piece was ultimately made out of concern after the student himself became the target of “demeaning” social media posts. The student’s parents were notified and made to understand the decision and the motive behind it before the artwork was removed.
The Madeira Police Department was also made aware of the student’s piece.
“Images of this art project began circulating on social media and our office did receive complaints about it,” a statement from the police department reads. “The members of the Madeira Police Department fully respect and support the student’s right to free speech, and recognize that this young artist is very talented. However, officers are troubled by the perceived message of the student’s art project.”
Another Cincinnati police organization — the Fraternal Order of Police, Ohio Valley Lodge 112 — wasn’t quite as diplomatic. They reportedly sparked a backlash when they revealed the underage student’s identity in a Facebook post, calling the artwork a “piece of trash,” according to The Enquirer.
“Art is meant to evoke feelings and cause reactions,” one person wrote on the union’s page. “It’s not meant to pacify.” The union later removed the post, and as of Tuesday morning, their Facebook account appears to be offline.