The article has been automatically translated into English by Google Translate from Russian and has not been edited.

In San Francisco, want to paint over the frescoes of the Soviet artist depicting the slaves of George Washington

At the end of June 2019, the San Francisco City Board of Education decided to hide the murals on the walls of the local George Washington school.

Photo: YouTube video screenshot /GWHS Alumni Assn SF CA

For decades, advocates of minority rights have been trying to achieve this: Washington depicts frescos along with its dark-skinned slaves, as well as the Indian killed by the colonizers. The Council approved the allocation of money for the destruction of images: according to various estimates, the cost of the city budget will be from 600 to 850 thousand dollars. By According to the San Francisco Chronicle newspapers, the frescoes are just painted over.

The history of the frescoes, which was written by a Russian artist, tells Meduza.

Murals painted by artist Viktor Arnautov

The cycle of frescoes about the life of the American president in 1930-s was written by Russian artist Viktor Arnautov. He came to San Francisco in 1925 to study at the local Institute of the Arts, a large and respected art school in the United States. When the artist ended the American visa, he moved to Mexico. There, Diego Rivera, one of the most famous painters in Mexican history, became his teacher. Later Arnautov returned to the United States. He designed metro stations, large buildings, hospitals and various memorials in San Francisco. In 1938, he was invited to become a professor at Stanford University, where he worked for about two decades. In 1963, Arnautov, who had remained a committed communist all this time, returned to the USSR.

A cycle of frescoes called "The Life of George Washington" on the walls of the school in San Francisco Arnautov created in 1930-s. It was paid by their special government agency created by President Franklin Roosevelt as part of New course. The agency sent the unemployed to socially significant work - to build stadiums and airfields, to pave roads, to build dams. Among other things, paid and the work of artists who decorated public buildings.

Total Arnautov wrote in the school 13 frescoes. On one of these, George Washington points to the west, standing over an Indian corpse.

Photo: YouTube video screenshot /GWHS Alumni Assn SF CA

In the upper right corner of another mural depicted hunched slaves of the first president of the United States who work on his plantation Mount Vernon. One more mural two Africans load bales onto the ship, and outside the window you can see four dark-skinned women picking cotton.

“History from the point of view of the colonialists”

When the murals were finished, critics praised the work of Arnautov, notes newspaper The New York Times. However, by the end of the 1960s, protests began on the part of American minority advocates. To reach a compromise, the school in 1974 added frescoes by African-American artist Dewey Krampler to the works of Arnautov. On them symbolically depicted "Multi-ethnic heritage" of the United States. However, the requirement to remove or hide the work of the Soviet artist did not stop.

The current, successful campaign launched an activist for the rights of Indians Amy Anderson, whose son is studying in the school named after George Washington. Every time, passing by the works of Arnautov, the child lowered his eyes, said human rights activist in the comment The New York Times. In her opinion, the frescoes reflect "American history from the point of view of the colonialists." Virginia Marshall, president of the Union of Black Teachers of San Francisco, added that the paintings Arnautova reminds her "great-grandfather and great-grandmother, who was beaten and hung on trees - and who were told that they were not even people." The murals represent the story "very one-sided", stated the president of the San Francisco Board of Education, Stevon Cook. The scenes depicted on them are “offensive to some communities,” added the head of the council, who himself is African American.

No need to "bleach" the truth

The proposal to hide or paint over the frescoes caused criticism at the discussion stage. George Washington Alumni Association saidthat the frescoes of Arnautov are the largest and most significant works created in the city as part of the Roosevelt program. The Soviet artist used a rare technology, graduates explained: pigments were applied directly on the wet plaster to make the paintings become an integral part of the walls. “The frescoes of Arnautov should be preserved for the sake of their artistic, historical and educational value. Shading them will lead to another “bleaching” of the whole truth about American history, ”the graduates added.

After the final decision to hide the frescoes, their advocates started talking again about how valuable they are. More 400 American artists, writers, teachers, professors and other citizens signed petition asking not to touch the work of Arnautov. The communist artist in his frescoes was engaged in an “objective analysis of exploitation and colonial violence,” the authors of the petition emphasize. “They (members of the city council for education) voted to destroy an important anti-racist monument. This is a gross violation of logic and meaning, ”the petition also says.

The President of the San Francisco Board of Education 8 July made it clear that petitions and protests will not affect the decision. "They [opponents of the decision] should let me go back to work, - said Stevon Cook newspaper San Francisco Chronicle. “If they are so touched by all this, let them order their own frescoes.” I focus on solving real problems, not on online petitions from people who are not an interested party in the affairs of our schools. ”

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