The assignment seemed simple enough. Reverend Jeff Moore, president of the San Jose/Silicon Valley Branch of the NAACP, approached visual artist Mark Harris and asked him to pull together a small collection of his artwork to show in the lobby of the administrative offices of the East Side Union High School District in San Jose for Black History Month in February.
That’s exactly what Harris did, curating together 11 paintings, in consultation with Moore, who works at the district’s Independence High School as a counselor.
“I would say it’s agitprop,” says Harris of the selection of works, done in mixed media, collage, acrylic and egg tempera. “It’s definitely something thought-provoking. It’s not something you’re going to walk by and not have a second thought about.”
A few hours after the artist’s paintings went up on display, they were taken down. Harris heard the news about the removal second-hand from Moore.
“Some parents who’d come into the administration offices were offended by the work.” Moore also said the district superintendent, Chris Funk said a school district shouldn’t take a political stance, “which I think is ridiculous,” Harris says. “The fact that the superintendent was uncomfortable with the exhibit was disappointing also.”
Art has gone up on display to celebrate African American History Month at the offices for the past three years. Funk says that to date, there had been no concerns in part because the displays had been made up of historical artifacts like books, quilts, and representations of famous African Americans.