The University of New Mexico has made the decision to cover up the “Three Peoples” mural from Zimmerman library after community members called for its removal due to its racist images. The mural panels will be covered with removable shades by the end of this month or next, unable to be completely removed due to legal standings.
“Critics have long derided the ‘Three Peoples’ murals at Zimmerman Library as racist in their various depictions of Native Americans, Hispanics and Anglos,” Jessica Dyer wrote for the Albuquerque Journal. “Kenneth Adams’ 1939 artwork was defaced multiple times in the 1970s, triggered a wave of debate in the 1990s and more recently led library staff and faculty to complain about a hostile work environment.”
Raven Alcott, an Indigenous student of the university, said the murals are a “slap in the face” to both the student body and faculty at UNM.
“(The mural) definitely negatively impacts my opinion of the University … I don’t want to abandon my ethics or endure racism or discrimination, even if it’s subtle,” Alcott said. “It’s implied, and it's there.”
The movement to have the art taken down gained a great deal of traction in 2018 following the creation of a petition which asked the University to have the murals removed.
“There have been protests (about the murals) in the ’30s and ’70s … This is the first time it got traction for any kind of solution though,” said Mark Emmons, Interim Dean of the College of University Libraries & Learning Sciences at UNM.
The art is not allowed to be changed or removed because Zimmerman Library is a recognized location on the list of National Register of Historic Places and the mural is considered a “contributing object” to the library, according to the UNM Digital Repository. Emmons said that a conservator, sent from the Santa Fe Historic Preservation Division, has been at UNM to ensure the art remains protected.
Emmons was a part of a committee tasked with forming an objective understanding of the controversy of the murals. They worked together to find efficient ways to deal with the situation, which led to the decision to cover the artwork.
Former associate provost for faculty development Alex Lubin, who chaired the committee, co-taught a course at UNM about the issues of offensive public art — specifically, how the “Three Peoples” mural is “a public art work that offends students, faculty and staff who work in the Zimmerman Library,” according to the course description.
Lubin said he did his best to educate the community to understand the nature of the conflict, both in terms of the history of the art as well as the “ethical and political considerations involved with historical preservation.”
Jaden Brown is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DailyLobo