In the past two weeks, a mural at Pitzer College depicting a pistol with flowers coming out of the barrel has been criticized as emotionally triggering by some Pitzer students.
On Apr. 18, Gregory Ochiagha PZ ’18 wrote in an email to Pitzer students that while he appreciated the good intentions of the mural, the depiction of a pistol was emotionally triggering, particularly for students of color.
The artist, Selena Spier PZ ’19, proposed meeting with Ochiagha. They agreed to replace the gun with a hand.
Ochiagha said he was satisfied with the revisions to the mural, which is located outside Mead Hall.
“For me and a lot of my friends, many of them students of color, we just felt that with police brutality being such a national issue, it seemed extremely insensitive to have a large depiction of a gun, where we would literally have to see it every time we walked out of where we lived,” Ochiagha said. “I just felt that something had to be said.”
Spier emphasized that Ochiagha had not asked her to change the piece and that she felt it was in no way a case of censorship.
“We wanted to preserve the integrity of the original message of the piece while depicting it in a way that avoided any triggering content,” Spier said. “And so we decided that the best way to do that would be to replace the gun with the hand.”
The piece was initially inspired by an iconic photograph taken of the Flower Power movement, in which protesters had placed flowers in the barrels of soldiers’ guns at a demonstration against the Vietnam War. Spier described the image as a symbol of nonviolence.
Though Spier and Ochiagha worked with each other to revise the mural, some students raised concerns about the principle of the revision.
Responding to Ochiagha’s initial email, James Bright-Dumm PZ ’17 wrote that he would have supported the original mural being completed.
“To look past the clear message of the piece, and to censor it on the grounds of being triggering is, to me, an over-extension of one person's opinion on a piece of art which infringes on the community's right to make public art,” Bright-Dumm wrote in his email response to the student body.
The revised proposal is being considered by Pitzer’s Aesthetics Committee, which also approved the original mural. Associate Dean of Faculty Linus Yamane, who represents the Dean of Faculty’s office on the Aesthetics Committee, said he was glad to see that Spier and Ochiagha had resolved the issue.
“It’s great when students can work things out amongst themselves,” Yamane said. “I think we need more of students who are listening to each other and being sensitive to each other.”
Spier agreed. “I’m glad we were able to meet and talk about it in a productive way, and I hope it sets a precedent for how we listen to marginalized voices in the community,” she said.