Exhibit of Baltimore artist's Ku Klux Klan robes is closed to public

Update: This story was updated on Oct. 11 to include additional details.

An exhibit of satirical Ku Klux Klan robes created by the Baltimore African-American artist Paul Rucker has been closed to the public by York College of Pennsylvania officials because they fear that the show could be inflammatory.

“The images, while powerful, are very provocative and potentially disturbing to some,” the college wrote in a news release.

“This is especially the case without the benefit of an understanding of the intended educational context of the exhibit. As a result, the College has limited attendance to the exhibit to campus community possessing York College IDs and to invited guests.”

The statement was posted in September, about three weeks after violence erupted on Aug. 12 at a white nationalist rally in the college town of Charlottesville, Virginia. Three people died and 35 people were injured after a speeding truck plowed into a crowd protesting the rally.

The exhibit, called “Rewind,” has been touring the nation since it debuted at Baltimore’s Creative Alliance in 2015. Life-sized mannequins, some with black arms and legs, are attired in embellished Klan robes. Some robes are equipped with the kind of superhero cape that a child might wear, or belted with a prom queen-style sash. Other robes, made from traditional African Kente cloth, target black-on-black racism.

The exhibit is accompanied by a 30-page, educational newspaper that visitors can take with them upon leaving the show. Rucker said he’s given out more than 10,000 copies over the past two years.

“It’s not an easy show,” acknowledged the artist, who was awarded a 2017 John Simon Guggenheim Foundation fellowship.

“But we can’t be scared to have conversations because someone might shoot us or run us over. We can’t be cowardly in critical times. We have to keep resisting.”

Rewind previously has been shown in cities with recent histories of racial turmoil. Rucker’s robes were part of an exhibit of winners of the Baker Artist Awards that opened at the Baltimore Museum of Art in September 2015, five months after Freddie Gray died from injuries sustained while in police custody.

Last summer, Rewind went on view in Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown was fatally shot by police in 2014.

In neither city, Rucker said, did the exhibit attract controversy.

“I’ve gotten nothing but love and appreciation,” he said. “People have told me that this show changed their lives.”

When plans were initially made to mount Rewind at York College, Rucker said, there was no talk of limiting attendance.

“It was supposed to be open to the public, just like every other show at the college has been open to the public,” he said. “But then Charlottesville happened, and they got nervous.”

At first, Rucker said, college officials considered shortening Rewind’s run from seven weeks to two or three, but the artist rejected that plan.

He and administrators eventually agreed on a compromise; attendance would be open at all times to students with a York College ID, while the public could view the show by making an appointment with the gallery’s director, Matthew Clay-Robison.Rucker sent an email to his followers on Aug. 30 applauding “the courage of curators and communities that have hosted this show.”

But the Sept. 5 statement issued by the school didn’t include any provision for the public to attend.

“It’s a missed opportunity,” Rucker said, “to have a conversation about race relations in America.”

Contacted for comment by The Sun on Tuesday, Mary Dolheimer, assistant vice president of communications at York College, referred a reporter to the statement.

Rewind runs at York College through Oct. 21. Rucker’s robes are scheduled to be on view next at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond in the spring of 2018.

mmccauley@baltsun.com

twitter.com/mcmccauley

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