By Joe Bukuras
A second pieta displayed at the Catholic University of America’s law school that some see as depicting George Floyd in the place of Jesus was stolen the afternoon of Dec. 5.
“We have reported the crime, and we are working with the Metropolitan Police Department to investigate both this and the earlier theft of a larger print of the icon that was stolen Nov. 24,” university spokesperson Karna Lozoya said in a statement to CNA.
In her statement, Lozoya asked all members of the community to contact the university’s Department of Public Safety with any information about either theft.
The original, larger painting was the center of controversy after the depiction of Jesus was reported in the media in November.
The painting, by the St. Louis-based artist Kelly Latimore, is titled “Mama.” It was installed in February outside the chapel at the university’s Columbus School of Law. In a style reminiscent of Eastern Christian iconography, the artwork portrays a Black Virgin Mary and Jesus in a Pieta-like scene. Mary’s gaze looks outward towards the viewer.
Floyd, 46, was killed in police custody in May 2020, sparking nationwide protests. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who kneeled on Floyd’s neck for more than 9 minutes, was later convicted on three charges of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. He was sentenced to 22 ½ years in prison.
Latimore has said the painting was commissioned to “mourn” George Floyd. When asked if the figure in the pieta is George Floyd or Jesus, he responded ambiguously, answering “yes.”
In an email to the school community on Nov. 24, Garvey announced the stolen picture the night before had been replaced and maintained that “our Law School has always seen the figure of Jesus” in the painting.
Lozoya clarified to CNA that the first painting, which Garvey said was stolen Nov. 23, was actually stolen in the early hours of Nov. 24.
Garvey said that the school received a “substantial number of emails and phone calls” noting that “some critics called the image blasphemous because they saw it as deifying or canonizing George Floyd.”
Garvey acknowledged some comments were thoughtful and reasonable while he called others offensive and racist. Most complaints came from outside the university, he said.
In his email, he said he would not be ordering the school to take down the painting because of his “no cancellation” policy, a practice he has kept consistent through his tenure as president.
“We hope to continue to build on campus a culture that engages in thoughtful dialogue and debate, not the sort of bully tactics epitomized by this theft,” he added.
CNA asked the university if they will hang up another replica at the law school, but received no response by time of publication. Maura Schlee, a student senator at the university, told CNA that she had not heard of any artwork being hung up as a replacement.
Schlee believes that the painting is “wrong” and used her influence as a student senator to draft a resolution in opposition to the display after hearing the first stolen painting was replaced with a smaller replica in November.
“There are other paintings and icons that do a much better job at making a genuine, good faith effort to reflect the universality of the Catholic Church that also do not divide and confuse the university and larger Catholic community,” the resolution says.
The resolution’s title says its aim is to “unify the community by replacing controversial icons.” The text asks for the university to remove the paintings from university buildings and to work to replace them with “other forms of art that represent diversity and bring forth representation of the African American community in a non-political and uncontroversial way.”
Schlee told CNA Dec. 17 that she knew she was going to get pushback from members of the community, but was pleasantly surprised at the amount of support for her resolution on campus.
Schlee said during the student government debate on her resolution, she and others were defending her position for over two hours. Some of that debate focused on whether the painting was “sacreligious,” she said.
After the night, the bill finally passed 15-9 resolving that no forms of art titled “Mama” by Kelly Latimore be hung or put on display in any university buildings.
That resolution had originally been drafted before the second painting was stolen, Schlee said. The resolution originally called for the removal and replacement of the paintings with other forms of art “that represent diversity” and the African American community.
After the second painting was stolen, Schlee amended the legislation to request that the paintings would not be hung back up, while maintaining the same call for replacement.
CNA asked the university for a comment on the resolution, but received no response by time of publication.