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Thursday, July 30, 2015 - 2:31pm

Pastors Will Protest Artwork at Tubman Museum

The painting hangs at the new Harriet Tubman Museum -- one of 40 pieces in an exhibition featuring the work of 31 black Georgia artists. It shows an African-American pastor laying hands on a congregant and text next to the image describing a preacher that has exploited his flock.

Tubman Museum Curator Jeff Bruce said the name of the painting alone causes controversy - The Preacher Pimp.

"Those two words put so close together is unsettling," said Bruce.

Some pastors, like Rev. Eddie Smith of Macedonia Baptist Church of Macon are upset by the artwork.

“We feel that this is slap to the black church and to every black pastor down through the ages," said Smith, who has been appointed as the spokesperson for the pastors. "We know the strength of the church, we know how the church should be respected."

Tubman officials first learned of the dissatisfaction among some clergy months ago before the grand opening of the the new museum. More recently, six pastors including Reverand Smith met with Tubman board members and Museum Director Andy Ambrose. It was about the painting.

"The only solution that they would accept is the immediate removal of the painting from the display," Ambrose said. "If the museum doesn't take it down ... protest and other actions may follow."

Last Friday the Tubman Museum board voted unanimously to keep the Preacher Pimp painting up. They say It’s a matter of principle. Museums must showcase work with different points-of-view and, as Curator Jeff Bruce puts it, create a safe space to discuss provocative ideas.

"We can't do those things if we start censoring what we are going to put in our exhibits and our programs," Bruce said.

Rev. Smith believes the controversial piece lacks context. He feels that way even after the museum put a label next to the artwork that explains how the Preacher Pimp work was one of a series of multi-media paintings displayed in the old Tubman museum in 2012 that showed people who exploited others.

Smith said the artwork leaves an unbalanced view of black clergy who have done good for the south and for civil rights.

"There is a need for a solid museum to educate, to build up. it looks like the leadership of this museum don't want to do that," he said.

Clergy opposed to the Preacher Pimp painting will lead a protest in front of the Tubman this Saturday. They’re inviting all clergy and others concerned by the negative portrayal of religious leaders to join with them. He says the action is not aimed at the artist - Atlanta-based Alfred Conteh. Conteh’s reaction to all of this? Surprise.

"Most people who have seen that work don't have a problem with it because they understand what I'm speaking to…that its a segment - not all - that's doing these types of things," Conteh said.

The artist also said the painting is doing what it should - creating conversation.

Meanwhile, Rev. Smith said that if the painting remains, the group will work to close down the museum or advocate for a change in the Tubman's leadership.

Tubman leaders say they are ready.

"This is the right thing for us to do," said Bruce. "If that means enduring some hard times then we're prepared to accept that."

So far there’s been no fall-off in visits since Tubman leadership announced they would not take down The Preacher Pimp.