An artist in Topeka, Kansas is claiming that he was censored for creating an unfavorable image of the state's notoriously self-conscious governor, Sam Brownback. The artwork in question, created by muralist and printmaker Dave Loewenstein, depicts an enflamed version of the controversial Republican figure uttering the words "Kansans, pleeease...STOP ME!"
The "Reject Brownback" print was on display at Blue Planet Cafe until it was removed this week by the building's landlord, Greg Ready, reports The Topeka Capital Journal. The explanation for the removal of the artwork was outlined in an e-mail sent to Loewenstein by Ready, owner of the unfortunately named video production business located above the cafe (Gizmo Pictures, really?).
Loewenstein posted the email written by Ready on his blog:
"We have chosen to take down the picture of Sam Brownback burning out of respect to his daughter Liz, who works for us. This decision has nothing to do with politics or our belief in your freedom of speech through art. Liz is a valued employee and friend to us and I (we) felt strongly against subjecting her to having to look at a picture of her father burning at her place of employment.."
As you can see from the photo above, the print is not a hyperrealistic image of Liz's father suffering in Dante's Inferno, nonetheless, that's the excuse Ready has proffered to the artist, whose other politically inflammatory work is still hanging on the walls.
Loewenstein told The Huffington Post in a phone interview that he respected the right of the business owner to take down the print, but that the action constituted a violation of freedom of expression. "I understand that it's their legal right to take it down," stated Loewenstein. "But I certainly think it's an instance of censorship. They thought the print would be offensive to an employee, but their reaction is completely out of proportion."
The artist added that he was not against Brownback as an individual, but rather he disagreed with a number of the governor's policies. "With massive tax cuts that are crippling the state in terms of social programs, public education and the elimination of art programs, I strongly disagree with him and think many people, particularly children, will suffer under his policies."
When asked whether he thought threats to freedom of expression were a larger problem for the state of Kansas, Loewenstein likened the removal of his artwork to last year's Twitter incident involving 18-year-old Emma Sullivan, a Kansas City teen who was confronted by a member of Brownback's staff after tweeting negative comments about the governor.
In the e-mail written to Loewenstein by Ready, the landlord stated that the decision to remove the artist's print was made with the support of his business partner Jeff Carson, and not at the behest of the governor's daughter. Neither Ready nor Carson were immediately available to comment on the story, however. Though the Blue Planet Cafe's art curator, Michaela Carmen, did state to The Topeka Capital Journal that the restaurant was disappointed that the painting was removed, stating, “We support local art. We are very anti-censorship in any art.”
Other works by Loewenstein, who previously created art in support of the Occupy Movement, are on view at the Blue Planet, including an image of the Secretary of State Kris Kobach as the “Secretario De Xenofobia" and state representative Virgil Peck as a gun-toting “Porky Peck." (We think it's safe to assume that Vicky Peck and Kathy Kobach do not work for Gizmo Pictures.)
What do you think, readers? Is this a clear case of censorship or has the artist gone too far? Let us know in the comments section below.
UPDATE: Greg Ready responded in an e-mail to the Huffington Post today. His statement can be summarized in the following quote: "As the owner of the building and more importantly, a person with a soul, I took [the print] down thinking I was protecting the innocent. I left the other dozen or so similar pictures hanging. There was no political motivation for this action whatsoever. I felt the placement was meant to be mean-spirited and spiteful so I let my conscience make the decision to remove it. After careful consideration of the incident, I stand behind that decision."