Depression-era murals in a Minnesota city hall covered over with new works reflecting a more diverse community

New artworks cover over a 1930s mural in the St. Paul city council chambers. Via Ramsay County Instagram

A Depression-era mural showing the subjugation of Indigenous people and labourers under towering white men in the city hall council chambers of St. Paul, Minnesota, has been concealed with four new artworks. Unveiled last week, the works aim to reflect a more inclusive worldview that foregrounds black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) citizens. Yet some feel that the murals fall short of their modernising mission.

The original four-panel mural was produced by the well-known Chicago artist John Warner Norton in 1931 and depicts scenes some claimed valorised white supremacy and imperialist beliefs, one of which included Indigenous people being baptised by a Catholic priest. The four new canvases aim to “reimagine themes represented in the original murals in a way that more accurately represents and includes the contributions of women and diverse communities”, according to the open call for submissions published in September.

Selected earlier this year, the winning works range from images that symbolise the contributions of immigrants to the US to pieces referencing the climate crisis, such as a Latina farmworker with monarch butterfly wings and a female constructor worker installing solar panels. The artists behind them include Adam Swanson, Leah Yellowbird, Emily Donovan and more than a dozen artists of the Latinx Mural Apprenticeship Project. Each were paid $3,000 for their work.

“Its bright. Its joyous. Its feminine. Its welcoming,” city council president Amy Brendmoen told the local Star Tribune newspaper.

Yet Crystal Norcross, the board chair of the Minnesota-based Indigenous arts and social justice organisation Oyate Hotanin, says that the new murals are a “low-budget, Band-Aid project”.

Norcross tells The Art Newspaper that council members should have “taken more steps to involve tribal leaders in the initiative”, as St. Paul occupies ancestral Dakota land. In the lead up to the works installation, members of the Dakota tribes in the state claimed they were unfairly excluded from the project after their calls for the murals to be “removed, not covered up” after they were brought to their attention amid protests in city hall against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock in 2017.

Jim McDonough, the Ramsey County commissioner, and other city council members formed a task force to address concerns around the mural last year after Dakota leaders contacted officials calling for the removal of the mural. However, the Oyate Hotanin and other Dakota tribal members invited to participate in the forum refused to do so after council members suggested placing other works next to the murals, as a side-by-side project.

Norcross says their decision to not participate in the forum “doesnt take away from the fact that [the council] didnt acknowledge what we wanted to do with these murals, which is on Dakota land”. She also claims the task force created to discuss the murals, which was led by the Ramsey County Historical SRead More – Source

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