A drawing, which was so controversial it had to be covered up, is now on full display at a library in New Jersey. So, why would the Newark Library display an art work that depicts oral sex?
Because the piece, by renowned African-American artist Kara Walker, is, like so much of her other work, an exploration of race, gender, sexuality and violence. The title of the piece, “The moral arc of history ideally bends towards justice but just as soon as not curves back around toward barbarism, sadism, and unrestrained chaos,” (a reference to Martin Luther King’s more optimistic quote “The Arc of the Moral Universe Is Long, but It Bends Toward Justice”) says as much. The drawing is consistent with Walker’s style and content, as Paul Sternberger, an associate art history professor at Rutgers-Newark, explains:
“For many years she has been exploring themes of race, gender and oppression, often in a quasi-historical context… Often those themes include violent and sexually charged imagery…. That’s what she does…. It’s frightening.”
The piece, which was put up in November, depicts the era of Reconstruction and Jim Crow, and contains violent imagery and images of the KKK. But the aspect that most found so disturbing was that of a white man pushing the head of a naked black woman, whose back is to us, into his groin. Kendell Willis, a library services employee, recalls, “I didn’t notice it at first…. Then I looked up and was blown away.” Willis sent Library Director Wilma Grey an e-mail complaining about the art work.