Social media outrage quickly followed the installation of a new piece of artwork at the University of Nevada, Reno. The exhibit is inside the Jot Travis Building, and was put up Tuesday, Oct. 31.
Fine Arts graduate student and United States Air Force veteran Mark L. Combs showcased a series of six axes mounted on a wall, with the last ax pinning the American flag as it drapes to the floor.
This showcase is drawing the ire of some social media users, who say the artwork is inappropriate.
Emily Cowlishaw posted to Facebook expressing her concerns with the artwork by calling it “offensive” and stating that she is “truly ashamed” to be attending the university.
“I said I was ashamed and I am,” Cowlishaw said. “This artwork is clearly something the university doesn’t disagree with given that it’s still up. This artwork shows what the university stands for and that’s something I’m not proud of.”
In her post, Cowlishaw indicated that the university was quick to apologize and cover the painting of swastikas in the staircase of the Church Fine Arts. Cowlishaw believes that Combs artwork is “just as offensive.”
“This work falls outside of the normal realm of any of my previous or planned work in that it carries a strong political message,” said Combs in a statement. “It captures the symbolic motion of change through the objects presented. The public often has to be shocked in order to react and though acts of appalling nature are occurring everyday there seems to be a serious lack of appropriate responses from our government and our people.”
Combs served in the United States Air Force from 1987 to 2009. His service included multiple deployments to combat zones and earned multiple awards and decorations for his service.
“My work is intended to shock and provoke a conversation that should be happening across the country,” Combs’ statement reads. “It questions, ‘Where is America?’”
The School of Arts also released a statement in support of Combs artwork as a form of expression meant to provoke conversation.
“Yes, this particular artwork utilizes the American flag (for what it symbolically represents), and yes, the content of the artwork is political in nature,” the statement reads. “Socio-political artwork is almost always controversial, as we do not always find ourselves on the same side of every issue. Art is at its best when it moves us – it has the power to pose questions and elicit emotion – it invites us to think and feel.”
Karolina Rivas can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter@karolinarrivas.