Sunday, March 27, 2011

Shanna Wheelock’s speech: (Shanna is a potter, weaver, and art teacher in Lubec)

When I first heard that Taylor’s Department of Labor mural would be dismantled, I was, like many, angered. The impending action brought up images of censorship and fear of a dangerous slippery slope where voices are quelled to the point of living in a society where humans are expected to go about their day as emotionless as robots.

What makes this mural so powerful, and so relevant, is that not only does it tell a history of the working people of Maine, but that it has provoked a conversation; one that is quite poignant in today’s society.

The Governor reportedly ordered removal of the mural because of complaints about its pro-union theme.  Where better to house a mural depicting the struggle of the working class and the rise above adversity than in a complex where the welfare of its state’s workers is the number one priority?

Is this mural offensive? YES. Child labor is offensive. The fact that people have to fight for safe and fair work conditions is offensive. Treating humans in less than a dignified manner is offensive. We should all be offended that not everyone finds these things offensive.

Then I ask myself, is this artwork powerful and inspiring? And that answer is YES! I see a story unfolding from the first panel where an apprentice passes down his skills to another, preserving a trade. I see a panel of child laborers and am filled with such relief that our children are able to receive an education rather than toil the days away in a factory. I see women who model strength and perseverance, and I see people uniting for a cause worth fighting.

As we reflect today on the 100 year anniversary of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, March 25, 2011, let us remember that a movement was sparked that made way for safer and more fair work conditions for all. One hundred forty six workers died in that fire. Imagine where we would be today if that part of history were erased from the books, never to teach us, or remind us, the role that the working class has played in our society.

Artists use a visual language to document the stories of our lives. We must always remember the struggles, why we were there, and how we progressed, so that we do not repeat the atrocities again, and that we keep moving forward, toward positive change.

Indeed, this artwork is worthy of being in a museum where countless people may view and learn. However, the relevance of this location, at this time in our lives, deems that this painting stay here, at the Maine Department of Labor.

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