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Salem State Art Exhibit Shut Down Over Controversial Painting

SALEM (CBS) - The doors of the Winfisky Gallery at Salem State University are now temporarily closed, blocking student eyes from the 19 works inside including a digital print of some Ku Klux Klansmen.

"I feel like it's in the university's best interest to have it taken down," student Jesse Fermin said.

In fact, several students angrily requested just that last week, prompting a Monday meeting with the curator, the artist, and school officials.

"Both sides had humility and courage, that is important in these times," said Lisa McBride, Salem State vice president for diversity and inclusion.

Salem State
Salem State University art exhibit shut down due to controversial painting (WBZ-TV)

The exhibit is titled "State of the Union" and invited artists to weigh in on the controversial presidential election -- and the social divisions it exposed.

But with no context, some minority students questioned the message the artist was trying to send.

"They need to understand that intention does not negate consequence, and it does not negate what I or my peers personally felt when we walked in and we saw that image," Fermin said.

Salem State painting
A painting of KKK members shut down an art exhibit at Salem State University (WBZ-TV)

But not all students are putting the same frame on this fuss.

"I don't think you should rip it down, you should confront the issue," said student Edwin Calderon. "I don't think something that gives us an opportunity as a university to discuss truths regardless of whether they're good or bad should be dismissed."

The artist, a Vietnam veteran from Lowell, says the piece demonstrates his dismay about the reemerging voices of white supremacy in America.

Even so, the school's head of diversity applauded Salem State for encouraging the debate to play out in public.

"We're doing some challenging and courageous discussions where other campuses are afraid," said McBride.

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