DURHAM, NC.- Terrorism or Art? A well-received art exhibit at Duke University is being censored by the North Carolina state government.
Duke University has been happy with Robert Mihalys art exhibit at Dukes Louise Jones Brown Gallery. The University even pre-approved the artists use of controversial elements such as human bones and depleted uranium, but a few days into the exhibits ENCORE second month the state government has decided to interfere.
The States excuse is the radiation issue. However, two of Dukes prominent radiation experts have been quoted in newspapers saying there IS NO safety issue with the radiation.
A month before the shows opening artist Mihaly met with Ben Edwards, Duke Radiation Safety Health Physicist at Dukes Radiation Safety offices. Edwards and two colleagues measured Mihalys tiny depleted uranium sample with two separate instruments. Even before the show, Edwards told Raleigh News & Observer reporter Elizabeth Shestak the material was safe.
A Duke Chronicle article dated March 26 quoted Warren Warren, James B. Duke professor of chemistry and radiology saying of the show, "The radioactivity of depleted uranium is extremely small and certainly stopped by a sealed lead canister.
Three days after the opening, gallery manager Rachel Pea said, I was thrilled with the turnout! I heard only wonderful comments. The university even decided to host a second reception, March 22, for the artist. Then Duke offered to extend the show an additional entire month. (until May 5) Duke's Visual Arts Committee Director Grace Huang enthused, Amazing! and described the exhibit as absolutely perfect for this intellectual climate. On April 8 the Independent Weekly quoted Mihaly in a glowing full-page review as amazed at the positive reception the work has received.
The show garnered excellent feedback far and wide. The Chief Curator and the Chief Deputy Director of the North Carolina Museum of Art came to the exhibit for a personal tour conducted by Mihaly. The work incorporating the depleted uranium was acclaimed in several publications. Mihalys anti-authoritarian message and art was even reported thousands of miles away:
The Palestine Chronicle reported on April 6 the point of The Angel of Depleted Uranium (2009) was for viewers to feel the fear of those unlucky enough to be trapped in war zones purposely contaminated by this toxic waste. Text on the pedestal of the sculpture documents thousands of tons of depleted uranium munitions exploded and aerosolized in places like Iraq. Mihalys text even quotes peer-reviewed studies on birth defects resulting from the aerosolized depleted uranium munitions.
The conservative State of North Carolina Government, with nine military installations, does not appreciate such messages or methods Nor do they appreciate Mihalys other 39 works in the show such as The God of State, The God of Secret Torture, and The God of Empire to name a few.
Mihaly has nothing but praise for Duke. Im immeasurably grateful to all my patrons and certainly Duke. Mihaly has previously carved gargoyles for Duke. The State is pressuring my patron to censor and remove a sculpture from the exhibit. I dont like my patrons bullied.
The radioactive material is miniscule. About one milligram is melted into an inch-wide glass matrix, then bolted into a cast-lead nuclear storage container as part of the sculpture. An American citizen can legally own 15 pounds of pure depleted uranium! This is about six million times the amount incorporated into the work.
Have state stormtroopers measured radioactivity in my art? asks Mihaly. No, he answers, it is impossible to measure through the lead containment. In fact the radioactivity is so slight that even if it was not even encased in lead, it would be indistinguishable from background radiation at a mere six inches according to Dukes Radiation Safety officer Ben Edwards. Edwards wrote in a pre-show email, This amount of radioactive material is too small to present any measurable radiation dose to the audience. Edwards said the radiation is so incredibly slight that the lead container itself is more of a regulatory issue than the (depleted uranium sample). Edwards called the lead canister unnecessary.
So whats the States Problem? From a safety standpoint the depleted uranium and human bones are mere symbols. Symbols the State doesnt appreciate. The title of the exhibition is Pantheon of Modern Gods, An Anthropological Expedition into Corridors of Power. This kind of message apparently goes over well in academia, not so well in the capital.
Students have told me these works have opened their eyes to injustices in the world says Mihaly. Now theyre learning about political censorship. This is the States blatant attempt to suppress an unpopular and unflattering perspective. To attack this symbol is to attack all free speech.