KKK Cop Painting Stirs Sh*tstorm, Student Artist Asks That It Be Taken Down

Update: The City of Denver has postponed a planned meeting with the student artist of the controversial painting described in this item and a subsequent press conference due to inclement weather. No time and date for the rescheduled events have been released to date. Continue for our previous coverage.

Original post, 6:36 a.m.: The image, part of a Denver Public Schools student art show displayed at the Wellington Webb Municipal Office Building in Denver, is obviously meant to provoke.

After all, it features a police officer in a KKK hood holding a gun on an African American child in a white hoodie against the backdrop of a modified American flag overlaid with the symbol of the Confederacy.

But we're guessing the student who painted it couldn't have predicted the controversy it would provoke, including attacks by police organizations, one of which dubbed the piece "hate art."

Now, the student, who attends the Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy, has reportedly agreed to have the painting taken down. And while other DPS pupils have a snow day as a result of the ongoing spring storm, she's scheduled for a sit-down with Denver mayor Michael Hancock, among others, prior to a morning press conference over the entire kerfuffle.

According to 7News, the painting is described as a "Re-Contextualization of Goya's Third of May" — a reference to "Third of May 1808" by Francisco Goya. Here's a look at that painting.  

However, the piece more closely resembles a more contemporary work: Michael D’Antuono's "A Tale of Two Hoodies," created in 2014.

As you can see, the compositions of the paintings are quite similar. But the child in  D’Antuono's painting is trying to hand the Klan cop a bag of Skittles — a brand of candy associated with Trayvon Martin, who was shot to death by a neighborhood watch volunteer in 2012.*

The roots of the student's painting clearly don't justify the final product in the view of the National Latino Peace Officers Association, the source of the "hate art" label, and the Denver Police Protective Association, whose president, Nick Rodgers, sent a letter to Mayor Hancock yesterday demanding that the painting be removed.

Faced with such push-back, Hancock and DPS acting superintendent Susana Cordova released a statement intended to cool the criticism late last night.

It reads: “Denver and DPS are sensitive to all concerns in this situation. We absolutely value the voices of our young artists, which is why we display their work every year. We also greatly respect the impact this art has had on our officers who serve and protect Denver and others in the community. But there is an opportunity here, too, to listen and learn from each other and to encourage our students to engage in difficult conversations. That is exactly the intention of DPS and the city as we continue to address the community’s concerns.”

Also quoted is DPD chief White, who states: “I’m greatly concerned about how this painting portrays the police. I look forward to having a conversation with the student and her parents."

That get-together is expected to take place this morning at Kunsmiller with the student, her mom, Hancock, White and Cordova expected to attend prior to what CBS4 calls "a brief media availability" at 11 a.m.

By the way, 7News points out that the KKK painting isn't the only piece of student art displayed at the Webb building that might raise hackles. There's also an image of Donald Trump chasing Speedy Gonzales....

...and an illustration in which cows and chickens gut humans:

Clearly, student artists in Denver aren't shying away from taking on the issues of the day in bold ways.

Adults? That's another matter....

Here's a 7News report about the painting.

*Editor's note: The original version of this post had inaccurate information about the painting "A Tale of Two Hoodies" and its reference to Trayvon Martin. It's now been corrected. We regret the error.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts