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Depleted Uranium OK for Iraqis and US Troops, but Not for North Carolina
The God of Distraction, oil on linen, carved wood, 23k gold leaf, dried blood, gunpowder, pigment.

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 Mihaly’s art exhibit at Duke’s Louise Jones Brown Gallery. The University even pre-approved the artist’s use of controversial elements such as human bones and depleted uranium, but a few days into the exhibit’s ENCORE second month the state government has decided to interfere.

The State’s excuse is the radiation issue. However, two of Duke’s prominent radiation experts have been quoted in newspapers saying there IS NO safety issue with the radiation.

A month before the show’s opening artist Mihaly met with Ben Edwards, Duke Radiation Safety Health Physicist at Duke’s Radiation Safety offices. Edwards and two colleagues measured Mihaly’s 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. Mihaly’s 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. Mihaly’s 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 Mihaly’s 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. “I’m 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 don’t 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 Duke’s 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 what’s the State’s Problem? From a safety standpoint the depleted uranium and human bones are mere symbols. Symbols the State doesn’t 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 they’re learning about political censorship. This is the State’s blatant attempt to suppress an unpopular and unflattering perspective. To attack this symbol is to attack all free speech.”

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