WASHINGTON – A Republican lawmaker removed a high school student’s painting from a Capitol Hill display Friday because it shows a pig in a police uniform aiming a gun at African American protesters. The image was inspired by the shooting and protests in Ferguson, Missouri.
Rep. Duncan Hunter of California unscrewed the painting from a hallway display that includes hundreds of works of art and returned it to the office of Democratic Rep. William Lacy Clay, who sponsored the work and represents a St. Louis congressional district.
Joe Kasper, a spokesman for Hunter, said “there’s nothing appropriate” about the painting. He said the artwork was the subject of discussion when GOP lawmakers gathered for a morning caucus meeting. When Hunter left the meeting, he walked to the display and took it off the wall.
“He made sure he returned it safe and sound, all in one piece,” Kasper said.
Hunter did not speak with Clay about the portrait, and Kasper said it was Clay’s prerogative to return the painting to the display. A spokesman for Clay says the congressman was unavailable for comment.
The painting showed a police officer taking aim at protesters with signs saying “history” and “stop kill.” The police officer has an elongated face with tusks, much like a razorback pig. The background includes the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and a young Black man looking out from prison bars. One of the figures also appears to show a protester as a wolf.
Clay’s website gives the following description of the artwork: “The painting portrays a colorful landscape of symbolic characters representing social injustice, the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri, and the lingering elements of inequality in modern American society.”
In August 2014, a White police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager, in Ferguson, setting off weeks of protests.
Clay’s office said Cardinal Ritter College Prep High School senior David Pulphus won the lawmaker’s 16th Annual Congressional Art Competition, and “his visually stunning acrylic painting on canvas entitled, `Untitled #1’ will be displayed at the U.S. Capitol Complex.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office did not return a call seeking comment on whether he condoned Hunter’s actions.
Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Hunter “will soon realize that he’s fallen down more than one rabbit hole.”
The reference was to Hunter’s recent admission that his campaign had paid the $600 tab incurred for flying his children’s pet rabbit with the family. Hunter said the charge to the campaign was a mistake and that he had reimbursed the campaign as part of more than $60,000 in questionable charges he had discovered.
Kasper said the congressman has received an outpouring of support from law enforcement organizations and individual officers.
“I am ecstatic with congressman Hunter’s actions,” said Andy Maybo, president of the Fraternal Order of Police chapter in the District of Columbia. “As we all know, this painting should never have made it to the walls of Congress.”
A tunnel leading to the Capitol is filled with paintings and other artwork done by students who enter them in the annual Congressional Art Competition. The nationwide competition began in 1982 and students around the country submit entries to their representative’s office. Panels of district artists select the winner from each district, and the winning works are displayed for one year.
Update: Congressman intends to sue over removal of painting
The office of a Missouri congressman said he intends to file a federal lawsuit over the removal of a constituent’s painting from its display on Capitol Hill.
The painting, which shows a pig in a police uniform, divided members of Congress for its depiction of Ferguson, Missouri, where weeks of protests occurred after the police shooting of an unarmed Black man.
The painting, one of 400-plus winning entries in the Congressional Arts Competition, hung in a tunnel leading to the Capitol for more than seven months.
Some conservative media outlets called for its removal, and Republican lawmakers took it down and returned it to Democratic Rep. William Lacy Clay’s office. Clay put it back up, saying its removal violated a constituent’s First Amendment right to freedom of expression.
Clay’s office said he will file a lawsuit Tuesday “in response to the arbitrary and unconstitutional disqualification and removal” of the painting.
“Congressman Clay is seeking an appropriate remedy through this federal litigation and he is proud to defend both the fundamental rights of his constituent and the First Amendment,” according to an advisory his office sent in advance of a press conference Clay held Tuesday outside the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.