When it comes to offensive material, Dixie State University has been producing its fair share recently.
The school made headlines with its retaining the name “Dixie” last year, Dixie Sun News’ column on sexuality has caused a social media uproar, and now student artists have elicited some disdain for their commentary on school shootings.
DSU’s art program is currently erecting installation art across campus. One of the pieces featured in the North Plaza is a depiction of what looks to be children playing with guns near a lemonade-style stand with weapons instead of drinks and a foreboding “For Sale” sign.
An anonymous tip was submitted to Dixie Sun News that called the installation “absolutely disgusting” and described the art as “way over the top in terms of irreverence, insensitivity, lack of civility, and suggestive that what happened to those children (at Sandy Hook Elementary) was ‘enjoyable.’”
In an incongruous turn of events, the demands for the removal of the art only brought it more attention.
“There’s so much irony to this particular piece,” said artist April Subashe, a senior art major from Salt Lake City and one-half of the creative team responsible for the installation. “It’s not by any means what we originally wanted to do, but it was satisfactory. Then the next day it got a lot of attention.”
Subashe said she and her co-artist, Robbie Rodrigues, initially planned something on a grander scale, but personal issues arose in both their lives. They ended up scaling back their original vision, but they still managed to get their point across.
“It was kind of inspired by the Sandy Hook incident, but essentially what it boiled down to was so much more complex,” she said.
Rodrigues, a senior art major from Phoenix, said the piece is meant to cause discomfort.
“We wanted people to want to look away from it,” she said. “When these shootings (like Sandy Hook) happen, it’s kind of crazy, and people are passionate about it for a while. Then they stop talking about it. Our part was to make people look at it longer so the dialogue doesn’t stop.”
Both artists had somewhat different reasons for wanting to put the piece together. Rodrigues said she believes entities like the National Rifle Association use these incidents to scare people into buying more guns for protection.
Subashe is on the other end of the argument, and she said she is a proponent for individual gun rights. But the art, they both said, can be interpreted in myriad ways.
“When we put the piece together, we put it together to make it look like a kid did it,” Rodrigues said about the foreboding ominous black cardboard representations of people. “Once you see it, it triggers your thoughts on children.”
She also said their original plan was to have the art all over the North Plaza with mirrors so the viewers had no choice but to see the piece. Subashe said making the installation unavoidable was a deliberate way to keep people talking.
“How does progress happen?” Subashe asked. “How does change occur if nobody talks about it, if nothing happens? The idea was to make it huge, in your face; you can’t look away from it, so you have to confront it. You couldn’t sweep it under the rug. It’s right there. It’s looking at you; you’re looking at it, and you’re totally disturbed or you’re totally inspired. Then dialogue gets opened up: ‘Why would they do something like this?’”
The controversial installation is currently still on display in the North Plaza, and art professor Dennis Martinez said it’s not going anywhere.
“We as the art faculty and the art department feel that we should protect our students,” he said. “We are against censorship in art. This is a protective element that will promote creativity [at Dixie State University].”
DSU Public Relations Director Steve Johnson also released a statement on the school’s behalf that read: “Dixie State University supports First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of expression for all of our students, faculty and staff. We encourage our students to achieve their academic and creative goals in an open learning environment.”
Rodrigues said other than the anonymous tipster, she has only received positive feedback from her peers and noted that the soaring popularity of the art could be attributed to the complaint.
Rodrigues and Subashe have another installation piece on display at the Student Art Showcase in the Sears Art Gallery until May 2. They both agreed that this piece is even more controversial than the one inspired by the Sandy Hook shooting—if observers are willing to look close enough.