NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Nashville artist has finished retouching a mural of Vanderbilt football coach Derek Mason after the school’s NAACP chapter complained about the original one.
Vanderbilt chapter president Akailah Harris says members started a petition for change because they felt the portrait was “reminiscent of the minstrelsy era in which Black people’s skin was darkened and their lips were made whiter in order to exaggerate their race.”
Muralist Michael Cooper told The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/1mckY9c) that he was surprised by the complaints about the original, but decided to make changes after talking with those who commissioned the portrait.
“I had nothing but positive comments — from the public, especially. . ‘Excellent.’ ‘Great job.’ ‘Fabulous.’
“Then to say that what I did was basically racist, it absolutely floored me,” he said.
He said the changes he made on Saturday included a few highlights, some reflection, facial features and details.
“I am not a controversial artist,” he said. “I am not out there on the edge. I am not out there to make a statement. The stuff I do is fun. I want people to smile and have a good time and enjoy what I do.”
Casey Summar, executive director of the Arts & Business Council, said no piece of public art is going to please everyone, and “an artist has to know their integrity and know what pieces are critical to their body of work and what changes will alter the integrity of the work.”
She said the mural of the Vanderbilt coaches is different “because it is representative of a living, breathing person and something that is commissioned.”
“It does change the understanding,” she said. “It’s not so much an artistic statement as it is portraying a real person in the community.”
Cooper says despite the uproar, he’s proud of how the final version turned out.
“There were some things I felt I could have changed to make him even better, and I did,” he said. “Of all the portraits on the wall, I think he turned out the best. I am really proud of it.”
Information from: The Tennessean, http://www.tennessean.com