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Columbus Murals will no longer be on full display

| Sunday, January 20, 2019

Luigi Gregori’s Christopher Columbus murals will no longer be displayed fully in the Main Building, University President Fr. John Jenkins said Sunday in an email to members of the Notre Dame community. The murals, a series of 12 paintings in the main corridor of the Main Building, were completed in 1884 by Italian painter Luigi Gregori and depict the life and work of Christopher Columbus. The art will now be covered with a cloth material, Jenkins said in his email.

“In recent years I have heard from students, alumni, faculty, staff, representatives of the Native American community and others on this complex topic,” Jenkins said. “I have decided, after consultation with the University’s Board of Fellows, on a course that will preserve the murals, but will not display them regularly in their current location.”

In recent years, members of the community voiced concerns about the accuracy of the murals’ depictions of Columbus as a savior-like figure to Native Americans and criticized the University’s display of the murals, especially in a location as prominent as the Main Building. Jenkins said the murals must be understood within the context in which they were created, but it is still important to recognize the way they ignore Columbus’ treatment of Native Americans.

“The murals present us with several narratives not easily reconciled, and the tensions among them are especially perplexing for us because of Notre Dame’s distinctive history and Catholic mission. At the time they were painted, the murals were not intended to slight indigenous peoples, but to encourage another marginalized group,” Jenkins said. “ … The message to the Notre Dame community was that they too, though largely immigrants and Catholics, could be fully and proudly American.

“The murals’ depiction of Columbus as beneficent explorer and friend of the native peoples hides from view the darker side of this story, a side we must acknowledge,” Jenkins continued.

The murals have long been the subject of protests and demonstrations from student organizations and activist groups. In March of 2018, the Notre Dame student senate voted in support of removing the murals from Main Building.

Prior to the decision to cover the murals, the University administrstion made pamphlets available in the hallway containing the murals that described their history.

Because the murals hold historical and artistic significance, Jenkins said, actions will be taken to preserve and display the murals in a more appropriate setting.

“We will … create a permanent display for high-quality, high-resolution images of the murals in a campus setting to be determined that will be conducive to such an informed and careful consideration,” he said.

Jenkins also said the material covering the murals will be able to be temporarily removed as to display them in their natural setting.

“The murals on the walls of the Main Building will themselves be covered by woven material consistent with the decor of the space, though it will be possible to display the murals on occasion,” he said.

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