This semester the University of New Mexico is offering a new class that focuses on the “Three Peoples Murals,” which were painted by Kenneth Adams in 1939 and originally funded through a grant from the Carnegie Corp.
Located in the west wing of Zimmerman Library, the four murals depict the intercultural relationship between Native, Hispanic and Anglo Americans as the artist viewed those relationships at the time, which caused criticism for decades.
An article by art historian Carroll Botts on UNM’s Library site, outlines the repeated vandalism of the mural.
“While the murals were well received during their early history, political changes on campus and in the nation at large changed their reception by some,” she wrote. “There has been criticism of what are interpreted as racist overtones of The Union of the ‘Three Peoples’ panel, which stylistically does place emphasis on the Anglo figure.”
Interim Associate Provost Alex Lubin, one of the professors teaching the new course, said the class arose from decades of protest surrounding the murals.
He, along with Dean of Fine Arts Kymberly Pinder, wanted to teach this class, “to give students a voice in planning and a voice in proposals for what happens to the murals,” Lubin said.
The class covers various topics, such as the historical preservation of art and how to write proposals that could result in subsequent relocation or covering up of murals. Lubin wants students in the class to learn how art can impact a community through examination of other communities that have faced similar challenges from controversial artwork, he said.
Jennifer Marley, a member of the UNM Kiva Club, was part of the committee that helped design the class and is now also enrolled in the class. Marley hopes that this class will result in some creative solutions for the problems surrounding the murals, she said.
“The art blatantly promotes white supremacy,” Marley said. “The art promotes the tricultural myth, which reduces New Mexico’s population to only Native Americans, Hispanic Americans and Anglo Americans.”
The class is scheduled to feature multiple guest speakers throughout the course.
One of these experts, Heather Galloway, is an art curator who specializes in art preservation and restoration. She spoke to the class about the historical preservation of art and possible methods for removal of the “Three Peoples Murals.”
“In terms of removing the murals, you can get them down,” she said. “They may suffer some damage, at least a little bit along the way. But yes, I think it would be challenging but possible.”
Another option that both Galloway and Marley discussed was covering up the murals with drywall, effectively preserving them and then having a space for new art.
The instructors are planning to continue to have guest speakers throughout the semester as the class explores new ways to resolve a decades-long conflict.
The class is currently open for enrollment, and Lubin encourages all UNM students and staff to attend, he said.
Megan Holmen is a culture and news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or on Twitter @megan_holmen.