LAWRENCE, Kan. — Kansas Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer and Secretary of State Kris Kobach on Wednesday demanded that the University of Kansas take down an art display that involves an altered U.S. flag, calling it disrespectful to the military.
The piece, called “Untitled (Flag 2), is the last of a series of flag pieces that have flown on the Lawrence campus since last fall as part of a national art project called “Pledges of Allegiance,” which involves 11 institutions at 14 locations across the country.
The current piece, which was installed July 5, shows two black shapes on the flag and a black-and-white sock. The artist, New York-based Josephine Meckseper, said it represents a deeply polarized country.
Colyer, who faces Kobach in the GOP gubernatorial primary in August, said Wednesday that the “disrespectful” display is “absolutely unacceptable” and should be taken down immediately. He said he had contacted university Chancellor Doug Girod and board of regents President Blake Flanders to express his disappointment that a public institution would allow such a display.
“Men and women have fought and bled for that flag and to use it in such a manner is beyond disrespectful,” Colyer said.
University spokeswoman Erinn Barcomb-Peterson said private money paid for the project, which was intended to encourage conversation about the current political climate.
Kobach said it was “outrageous” that a public university would display a desecrated flag.
“The fact that they call it art does not make it any less of a desecration of our flag. I call upon the university to take down that flag right away,” Kobach said.
The controversy began when Steve Watkins, a combat veteran and GOP candidate for Kansas’ 2nd Congressional District, drew attention to the artwork earlier Wednesday, saying the “defaced American flag” was disrespectful to the military. He said he was not demanding that the flag be removed.
“To those who would trample, burn, or deface the flag, thank a soldier,” Watkins said in a statement. “It hurts me to see a defaced flag fly at the University of Kansas.”
Meckseper, who is based in New York City, was commissioned by public arts nonprofit Creative Time to create the piece.
In a statement on the Creative Time website, Meckseper said she divided the shape of the U.S. in two for the flag design to reflect divisions in the country. She said a black and white sock in the corner “takes on a new symbolic meaning in light of the recent imprisonment of immigrant children at the border … It’s about time for our differences to unite us rather than divide us.”
The “Pledges of Allegiance” project began at Kansas in November and will run until July 30.
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