Artist Dave Loewenstein is accusing a neighborhood café in Topeka, Kansas of censorship after it decided to take down his controversial portrait of Kansas governor Sam Brownback. The print, with displays a tearful Brownback against a flame-filled backdrop exclaiming “Kansans…STOP ME!,” was reportedly removed from the Blue Planet Cafe following complaints by its landlord, Gizmo Pictures, which operates in the building and employs Brownback’s daughter, Liz.
“This decision has nothing to do with politics or our belief in your freedom of speech through art,” Gizmo co-owner Greg Ready wrote in an email to the Topeka Capital-Journal. “Liz is a valued employee and friend to us and I (we) felt strongly against subjecting her to having to look at a picture of her father burning at her place of employment.”
Loewenstein, the artist, disagrees, and has voiced his grievances on his blog. He’s hoping fans and fellow patrons of the Blue Planet will make a show of support. “If you care about free speech especially when it involves criticism of those in power,” he writes, “please call and or visit Gizmo Pictures (upstairs above the Blue Planet) and let them know how you feel.”
Loewenstein has used Blue Planet as a platform for politically-themed works of art before. Another work from the series that includes Brownback’s portrait is a less-than-flattering rendering of Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach. Titled “El Secretario de Xenofobia,” the print makes reference to Kobach’s role in drafting SB 1070, a controversial law in Arizona that requires law enforcement to stop and potentially detain any individual they believe to be in the country illegally. The portrait features a quote bubble that reads, “Your papers, por favor.”
— Reid Singer