IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A public art display meant to denounce racism in the United States was removed Friday after some University of Iowa students were angered by its image of a large Ku Klux Klan robe.
Serhat Tanyolacar, a visiting professor at the university's art school, said he displayed the 7-foot-tall fabric sculpture in the center of campus Friday morning to join with protesters upset over the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.
But within hours, he said he was facing angry criticism from students who misunderstood his intent and called him racist. One of them knocked over the sculpture, which he was later directed to take down by university police.
Tanyolacar said he felt horrible that people were offended. But he said he was insulted by a university statement that referred to his art as "divisive, insensitive and intolerant," saying officials didn't ask him about its context or message.
"It is hurtful as a professional artist to be told what is art work and what is not art work," said Tanyolacar, 38, who has taught at colleges in Florida and came to Iowa on a prestigious one-year Grant Wood printmaking fellowship. "I'm speechless."
Tanyolacar, a native of Turkey, created the piece in 2010 following a shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum by a white supremacist. He screen-printed dozens of images of newspaper headlines on the robe about lynchings and killings of blacks in the United States. During a performance piece in 2010, he donned the robe and walked around the memorial.
After Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer in August, he pulled the piece out of storage and decided he wanted to do something with it.
It went up Friday on the university's Pentacrest, where students have gathered all week to protest.
"My entire intention was creating awareness but in a peaceful and silent way," he said, adding, "We all live with this racism and prejudice but we ignore it and we choose not to see it."
He said he received a lot of positive feedback and constructive criticism, but the group of students — both white and black — were furious, even after explaining his intentions. The work was knocked over, but not damaged.
A university statement said that the work had deeply offended community members, and it was removed because Tanyolacar hadn't sought prior permission for the display.
"There is no room for divisive, insensitive and intolerant displays on this campus," the statement said. "The UI respects freedom of speech, but the university is also responsible for ensuring that public discourse is respectful and sensitive."
Asked whether the university understood the artist's intent, university spokesman Tom Moore said he had nothing to add to the statement.