More than a week has passed since the opening of UC Merced's fifth annual Bobcat Family Art Show -- and one student's piece of art is AWOL.
Irene Tang's multimedia piece, "Spell," is missing from the row of artwork in the UC Merced library.
The 19-year-old economics major was one of about 50 students and community members to submit work to the show's organizers by the Feb. 10 deadline.
Tang expected to see "Spell" at the show's Feb. 15 opening.
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But it wasn't there.
Later that week, after meeting with Jane Lawrence, vice chancellor for Student Affairs, and Charles Nies, associate vice chancellor of Student Affairs, Tang learned that her art wouldn't be included because they felt it was distasteful and disrespectful to the chancellor.
The artwork in question was a series of seven photographs of Chancellor Steve Kang talking into a microphone behind a lectern.
In each photograph, the artist placed a name tag on Kang's lapel with part of a the chorus of pop singer Lady Gaga's song, "Bad Romance."
The seventh photograph is what stirred the controversy among administrators, according to Tang.
In that photo, Tang decorated Kang with a pink bow tie and silver sunglasses. Tang also placed a condom over the microphone that Kang was speaking into.
According to Patti Istas, a spokeswoman for UC Merced, the show was family-oriented. Lawrence objected to Tang's project because she felt it was distasteful and inappropriate for young children.
Calls made to Lawrence weren't returned, but an e-mail from Lawrence to the student artist was obtained by the Sun-Star.
"As we discussed, we would be very pleased to include in the UC Merced Family Art Show the six photographs of the Chancellor that capture him speaking to a group," Lawrence said in her e-mail to Tang. "We are not comfortable with allowing the seventh picture to be part of the Family Art Show.
"Our Principles of Community uphold the values of fairness, respect, diversity and civil and respectful expressions of individual belief and opinions," Lawrence added. "We believe that we are not showing respect for our Chancellor if he is presented in such a way."
The other objection to having Tang's piece included in the show was that her image could be construed as sexually explicit by some of the parents of young children, Lawrence said in the e-mail.
Tang said that not allowing her artwork in the show violated the school's rules of community.
Submitting "Spell" without the seventh photo would compromise her artwork, Tang said, and she refused to comply with their demands.
Since the show is in the library and not in a gallery, it's hard for people to navigate away from an object some people could find objectionable, Istas said.
Tang's artwork is in custody of the school, and Tang said she was unclear when she would get it back.
When she created the image, Tang said she wasn't trying to be offensive.
The project was about about the formation of identity and how college students are deciding who they want to be.
"This is just a dedication to people who are trying to find direction and find their own way," Tang said. "It also reflects that the school is young and can take any direction."
The condom symbolized how Kang sometimes has to censor himself to protect his private identity, Tang explained.
The show's founder, Gail Benedict, said she saw Tang's piece first and felt she should show it to the chancellor before it went into the show.
The chancellor asked other faculty members their advice on whether to show Tang's images.
"I said the piece should go up," Benedict said.
Unless the artwork was clearly outrageous, then there was no reason why it shouldn't be presented, Benedict said.
If Tang's artwork still isn't allowed to be part of the show, Benedict said she would leave a space for Tang to make a written statement about her project at the show.
Tang would also be allowed to make a statement at Debut II, a performing arts event at 7:30 p.m., March 6, in the school's Lakireddy Auditorium.
To view a video of Tang's art work, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BLjM-7eBWYY.
Tang also created a Facebook group documenting the incident called Protest the blocking of art by members of UC Merced's administration.
Reporter Jamie Oppenheim can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org