Can an artist’s original intentions withstand the test of time and modern sentiment?
A mural at George Washington High School in San Francisco — that some have described as degrading; others have called it historic — will be obscured from public view. The question is how?
The muralist Victor Arnautoff intended to tell a genuine story of George Washington’s life and criticize America’s racist history by showing the country’s founding father with enslaved black people and slain Native Americans. It was painted during the 1930’s New Deal era with federal Works Progress Administration funding. The fresco spreads across a large wall inside George Washington High School located in the city’s Richmond District.
The mural has been contentious since the 1960’s when people argued its racist depictions of Black and Native people were dehumanizing and demeaning. In the 1970s, another artist Dewey Crumpler was commissioned to paint additional murals, so-called response murals inside the school.
In the last year, a group of historians, artists and high school alumni applied to have the city designate the high school a historic landmark, which would have made removing the George Washington mural hard to do.