Red Lake Nation News - Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

The George Washington murals were meant to make viewers uncomfortable


August 23, 2019

Detail from Victor Arnautoff's 'The Life of Washington' mural at George Washington High School in San Francisco. Photo: courtesy Tammy Aramian/GWHS Alumni Association

At the height of the Great Depression, a Russian artist was paid by the US government to paint a series of murals in a San Francisco high school. The 1,600-square-foot, 13-panel work that Victor Arnautoff created was called The Life of Washington, after the school's namesake. It could have embraced a hagiographical view of America's founding father and first president: young Washington chopping down the cherry tree and saying 'I cannot tell a lie'; old Washington relinquishing the role of president to avoid a return to monarchy. Yet Arnautoff chose a different approach, depicting Washington stripped of myth. The murals portray him as a slave owner and the progenitor of government policies that would result in the genocide of Native Americans.


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