Dionysus mural called “satanic” and removed

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LAKELAND, Fla. – On November 2, 2018, The Working Artists Studio Gallery unveiled a the “Un-Murals” project which aimed to “to promote quality works of Street Art in Lakeland and enhance the value of three urban areas, Downtown, Midtown and Dixieland.” The project was funded by the Lakeland Community Redevelopment Agency, the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority, the Citrus Connection (the mass transit service), and a number of private individual and corporate donors. Overall, 65 works of art were created by 43 professional artists and 22 student or emerging artists from the local area. The artwork was installed as “tapestries” in the target urban areas and the exhibit is expected to run through January 2020.

That is, the remaining exhibit will run through January 2020 because one image has been removed after complaints it was “satanic.” The artwork taken down from the project is a seven-by-nine foot (~2.5m by ~3m) painting called “The Fall of Dionysus” by artist Aaron Corbitt. The artwork was part of a series of five paintings depicting different Greek deities including Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades.

The full series had been installed at the south side of a building at 401 S. Florida Avenue in the Downtown section of Lakeland. Google captured the painting in December 2018.  The artwork faced a parking lot.

The Fall of Dionysus by Aaron Corbitt (pictured) [Courtesy]

Despite its discrete placement it still attracted the attention of a concerned citizen, and ultimately Mayor Bill Mutz according to Kevin Cook, Director of communications for the City of Lakeland.

The Lakeland Ledger reported that Lakeland resident Joel Vann criticized the image in a Facebook post,

“The best I could interpret from looking at it, was that it seemed confusing, dark and satanic like to me,” Vann wrote in response to Corbitt’s Facebook post. “In my opinion, you have many great pieces that are suitable for a public space — however this particular piece is too subjective [and] made for a gallery, not the busiest street in Lakeland.”

Subsequently Corbitt reported on March 23, 2019 on his Facebook site that the painting had been removed. He wrote “It is with a heavy heart that I’ve discovered my tapestry painting ‘the fall of Dionysus’ must be taken down due to complaints that it is “satanic.” I would like to publicly apologize for anyone who is offended by this piece, and also to state that never in my career would I intentionally insult or offend a religion or culture with my artwork.”

Corbitt described that the painting was far from “satanic.” Rather, he said “This painting was forged from love.” The intention behind the painting was a depiction of his personal struggle with alcohol abuse. “My intentions for this painting were strictly personal, dealing only with my abuse with alcohol that led me to a downward spiral that almost cost me everything, my friends, my family, my beautiful dear wife, and ultimately my own life.”

Three of the Corbitt “tapestries” in location [Courtesy]

Corbitt added his understanding of the modern issues inferred from the myths around Dionysus. He suggests that, “In today’s society the Dionysus myth is illuminated as manly, tough, courageous, but alcohol abuse is anything but that. This painting was salvation for me, the emotional impact was almost devastating to relive all the horror I’ve put myself and others through.”

Corbitt’s apology was met with quick responses of support on Facebook. Followers of the post condemned censorship and noted that he need not apologize for his artwork. Mutliple individuals wrote versions of “NEVER APOLOGIZE FOR A PIECE OF ART.” Corbitt was also praised for his vision and his work against his personal demons.

Even local clergy chimed in as shocked at the decision. One pastor of a Christian congregation, Mr. Timothy Sizemore, wrote, “Good grief! I am a pastor of a Christian congregation in Lakeland, Florida and this artwork looks fantastic. And now that I understand the story behind it I find it more impressive. In moments like these, I am embarrassed to identify as ‘Christian….’ If you ever want to come to our church to display your art and talk about how you channelled [sic] your life experience into your art, feel free to contact me at Beacon Hill Fellowship.”

Corbitt added that, “Anger cannot cleanse anger, or ignorance” and says he was also concerned that leaving the image up would result in vandalism. “It was a choice between leaving it up and waiting for it to get vann-dalized [sic], as was threatened by the detractors, or hang it somewhere else. I am a full time artist, gotta pick and choose my battles carefully!”

Although the tapestry was removed, it is not homeless. It is owned by Mr. David Collins of The Working Artist Studio/Gallery, the organization that sponsored the Un-Murals project.


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