A high school student’s painting of Lady Liberty wearing a hijab has caused controversy in the United States after it was seen hanging in the office of a congressman. The painting was part of the annual Congressional Art Competition, in which students submit their artwork with the hopes that it will be featured at the U.S. Capitol.
The painting shows the Statue of Liberty wearing a hijab and holding her torch across her body - rather than out in front of her. It won fourth place in its district and currently hangs in the office of Democratic Rep. J. Luis Correa in California. Clearly political in nature, the painting joins a host of other works of art criticising the current administration's stance on immigration and particularly that of Muslims.
Conservatives in a Frenzy over the Painting
Conservative groups have complained that the painting should not be hung in a congressional office, never mind at the Capitol, citing the separation of Church and state.
We The People Rising, a local activist group, which advocates for stricter immigration laws, started a campaign calling on the painting to be removed.
Describing a video of a taped meeting with Correa’s representative, the group wrongly claims that Lady Liberty has been portrayed wearing a green burqa, when in fact the artist painted one arm in a different position, so that it was no longer exposed.
“Ultimately, to attribute a specific religion to the Statue of Liberty is inaccurate, unprofessional and offensive,” a member of the group told the Washington Post. “In addition, the painting displays the torch of the Statue of Liberty, not as the heralded beacon of light, but rather held awkwardly to one side — in a perplexing, even disturbing, manner.”
Correa has proudly stood by his decision to hang the painting in his office and reprimanded those trying to police the high schooler’s art. “My thoughts were, here’s probably a young Muslim lady who is trying very hard to be part of America, who is trying very hard to show people that she is an American, given the context that is going on around us in our country,” Correa said. “By me taking it down, I’m acknowledging that she did something wrong.”
Backlash Highlights Growing Islamophobia in the US
Correa’s office decided that it was best not to identify the artist of the painting, due to fear that she would be targeted by Islamophobes. Indeed, the backlash by conservative groups in response to the painting highlights a wider trend of threats against Muslims in the US.
Muslim women in particular are being targeted, with the hijab being the second most common excuse for Muslim hate crimes in 2016. “The Statue of Liberty stands for #inclusion, #acceptance, and #freedom,” the Correa wrote in a Facebook post cementing his position. “The young woman who painted this is trying very hard to show people that she is an #American. If I took down her painting, I’d be telling the world her experiences don’t matter and she did something wrong. This is her country too, and she earned that spot on my wall.”