Sunday, April 23, 2006

A little Local News on higher education

Student: PSU censors artwork
Director says exhibit pulled because of Hillel sponsorship

By Daniel Victor

UNIVERSITY PARK -- An art student is claiming his work is being censored by Penn State because of its provocative images of terrorism, while school officials say the decision to cancel his exhibit is not content-related.

In an e-mail sent Friday to fifth-year student Josh Stulman, Charles Garoian, director of the School of Visual Arts, said the exhibit was pulled because it was sponsored by Penn State Hillel, making it a commercial work. The Patterson Gallery is dedicated to unsponsored class work. Garoian wrote in the e-mail that the exhibit would continue if the sponsorship is removed.

Stulman's exhibit, researched for two years, consists of paintings based on photographs addressing terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Stulman began the pieces last spring.

Penn State spokesman Bill Mahon said in a separate e-mail that "the heart of this issue is the student never mentioned outside sponsorship" when the exhibit was approved.

But e-mails from Stulman to Garoian, obtained by the Centre Daily Times, show that Stulman wrote March 1 that "the opening is sponsored by Penn State Hillel" and offered contact information for Penn State's Hillel director, Tuvia Abramson. Hillel is a Jewish organization.

On April 11, Garoian e-mailed Abramson and Stulman and suggested the three get together to write a news release about the exhibit. Garoian and Abramson corresponded several more times without mentioning the sponsorship.

Hillel was providing $75 to $100 for a reception, Abramson said. Hillel did the same for a February exhibit, Abramson and Stulman said, and encountered no problems.

They also said the sponsorship issue is a cover for discrimination. Abramson called it "morally repugnant," and Stulman said he won't nix the sponsorship.

"It's not only insulting; it's pathetic," Stulman said.

Repeated attempts to contact Garoian on Friday were unsuccessful.

Stulman said students and faculty have accused the exhibit of being hate-filled and racist.

Several fliers were removed or defaced in the Visual Arts Building, including one that had a swastika drawn on it.

In one of Stulman's paintings, an Arab-looking man is extending his right arm in a Nazi salute. On his headgear is written type in Arabic, translated as "I am a murderer." The colors of the painting match the colors of the Palestinian flag: red, black, white and green.

It is meant to shock and challenge, but it is not an anti-Muslim statement, Stulman said. The painting is to show "the appropriation of Nazi symbols and its use in Hamas and other terrorist organizations," he said.

"This is a terrorist, and I think anyone who sees this painting will see a terrorist," he said.

Many of Stulman's and Abramson's conversations with Garoian were in preparation for a possible controversy. Abramson said he was never aware of problem's with Hillel's sponsorship.

"It's an issue of discrimination, it's an issue of censorship, it's an issue of a political agenda," Abramson said Friday night. "It has nothing to do with Hillel."

Daniel Victor can be reached at 231-4616.

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