Congressman Defends Student Art Contest Winner from Calls for Censorship

David Pulphus paintingA Missouri Congressman is staunchly defending a police-brutality-themed painting by a high school student from his district, despite a Fox News commentator’s call for it to be removed from a corridor of the Congressional office building where it has hung since winning an art competition last spring. Rep. William Lacy Clay of St. Louis says “the young artist chose his own subject and the painting will not be removed.”

The untitled painting by 18-year-old David Pulphus, a recent high school graduate, depicts a protest march foregrounded by a police officer aiming his weapon at an unarmed subject. Two officers in the painting are depicted as boars. The painting was chosen along with seven others from Missouri to hang for one year in an underground tunnel connecting the Longworth House Office Building to other parts of the U.S. Capitol complex.

Although Pulphus’ work has hung in the corridor since June, it raised no outside notice until last Friday when Fox News’ Eric Bolling urged viewers to call Clay or their own Congressional representatives to demand that the painting be taken down. St. Louis County Police Association president Joe Patterson agreed, telling the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that his organization is “not about censorship, but good art and good taste are sometimes not the same thing.”

Rep. Clay responded with a statement making clear that he did not personally select the painting as the winner of the competition, but he firmly supports Pulphus’ right to express himself. This week Clay discussed the painting with fellow Rep. Dave Reichert, a former sheriff’s deputy from Washington state. The two Congressmen reportedly “agreed to disagree” about the painting, which Reichert says represents a trend in “promoting offensive and inaccurate caricatures of the very people who do the most to protect our families.”

Clay, on the other hand, recognizes that suppressing Pulphus’ artwork in the actual halls of Congress would be highly ironic:

This is this young man’s collective experience, and what he has dealt with on a daily basis in his community, and so he expressed that on canvas. Yes, some people find it offensive. I don’t find it offensive. I find it to be an expression of what one of my constituents is feeling about what he has experienced.

In a week during which Congressional representatives took an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” thanks to Rep. Clay for staying true to his words!

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Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.