WASHINGTON -- A Republican lawmaker removed a high school student’s painting from a Capitol Hill display Friday because it shows a pig in a police uniform aiming a gun at African-American protesters. The image was inspired by the shooting and protests in Ferguson, Missouri.
Rep. Duncan Hunter of California unscrewed the painting from a hallway display that includes hundreds of works of art and returned it to the office of Democratic Rep. William Lacy Clay, who sponsored the work and represents a St. Louis congressional district.
Joe Kasper, a spokesman for Hunter, said “there’s nothing appropriate” about the painting. He said the artwork was the subject of discussion when GOP lawmakers gathered for a morning caucus meeting. When Hunter left the meeting, he walked to the display and took it off the wall.
“He made sure he returned it safe and sound, all in one piece,” Kasper said.
Hunter did not speak with Clay about the portrait, and Kasper said it was Clay’s prerogative to return the painting to the display. A spokesman for Clay says the congressman was unavailable for comment.
The painting showed a police officer taking aim at protesters with signs saying “history” and “stop kill.” The police officer has an elongated face with tusks, much like a razorback pig. The background includes the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and a young black man looking out from prison bars. One of the figures also appears to show a protester as a wolf.
Clay’s website gives the following description of the artwork: “The painting portrays a colorful landscape of symbolic characters representing social injustice, the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri, and the lingering elements of inequality in modern American society.”
In August 2014, a white police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in Ferguson, setting off weeks of protests.
Clay’s office said Cardinal Ritter College Prep High School senior David Pulphus won the lawmaker’s 16th Annual Congressional Art Competition, and “his visually stunning acrylic painting on canvas entitled, ‘Untitled #1’ will be displayed at the U.S. Capitol Complex.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office did not return a call seeking comment on whether he condoned Hunter’s actions.
Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Hunter “will soon realize that he’s fallen down more than one rabbit hole.”
The reference was to Hunter’s recent admission that his campaign had paid the $600 tab incurred for flying his children’s pet rabbit with the family. Hunter said the charge to the campaign was a mistake and that he had reimbursed the campaign as part of more than $60,000 in questionable charges he had discovered.
Kasper said the congressman has received an outpouring of support from law enforcement organizations and individual officers.
“I am ecstatic with congressman Hunter’s actions,” said Andy Maybo, president of the Fraternal Order of Police chapter in the District of Columbia. “As we all know, this painting should never have made it to the walls of Congress.”
A tunnel leading to the Capitol is filled with paintings and other artwork done by students who enter them in the annual Congressional Art Competition. The nationwide competition began in 1982 and students around the country submit entries to their representative’s office. Panels of district artists select the winner from each district, and the winning works are displayed for one year.