BETHLEHEM, Pa. (AP) _ The photograph confronts anyone walking through the lobby of Lehigh University’s humanities building: A man who could be President Bush’s identical twin smirks for the camera, his left hand cupping the breast of a leering woman in a negligee.
The 4-foot-by-4-foot image, part of a satirical exhibit called “The Forbidden Pictures, A Political Tableau,” by internationally renowned photographer Larry Fink has upset student conservatives who see it as further evidence of a liberal bias on campus.
“My first impression was tasteless, absolutely tasteless. The picture of the president borders on slanderous,” said David Hauptmann, 22, a senior international relations major.
In an essay accompanying the five vivid photographs, Fink makes clear the target of his satire. He says the 2000 presidential election was stolen, criticizes the “fundamentalist neoconservative conspiracy,” calls Bush a “frat boy with charisma” and refers to “our current fraudulent leaders, George W. and his cabinet.”
Another photograph depicts a group of prostitutes sitting around a table scattered with miniature elephants _ the symbol of the Republican Party. Campus conservatives suspect that a woman in the foreground is meant to be national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, although Fink says she is not depicted.
The exhibit’s curator, Ricardo Viera, makes no apologies for the display, saying it is meant to promote discussion.
“Universities are a forum for diverse ideas and intellectual challenges,” he said.
Fink, 63, has built a 40-year career as a documentary photographer, aiming his lens at amateur boxers, jazz musicians, beatniks and children. He decided he wanted to lampoon the president shortly after Bush took office. The images that resulted are in the style of German artists such as George Grosz, whose work captured the decadence and moral decay of 1920s Berlin.
Fink told The Associated Press the woman in the Bush photograph can be seen as a metaphor for the entire world and “George is groping at this particular metaphor. I think that would be appropriate for what we were doing in our foreign policy: Groping without any good understanding of what we were doing and taking advantage of our imperious power.”
College Republicans President Neal Hoffman said Fink has a right to speak his mind, but he complained the exhibit should have been installed in a campus art gallery, not the building that houses the officially nonpartisan political science department.
He said that while Lehigh is not as liberal as many college campuses, most of its political science professors are liberal, as are most of the speakers brought to campus. The Fink exhibit only reinforces the perception that conservative viewpoints are ignored at Lehigh, he said.
“It clearly favors an anti-Bush ideology in a department that supposedly is about the nonpartisan study of politics,” said Hoffman, 20, a sophomore political science major.
A university spokesman said the exhibit is not associated with the political science department. Numerous academic disciplines are headquartered in Maginnes Hall, and art exhibits are rotated in and out of the building’s lobby often, Andrew Stanten said.
Still, Lehigh’s political science professors have used Fink’s work to provoke discussion in their classrooms, and Fink even refers to the department in his essay, writing: “Here in the halls of political science at Lehigh University, (the images) speak. They are free. But the ever-evolving question is, are we??”
On Tuesday, a steady stream of students made their way from one photo to the next, pausing at each one. Most said they weren’t offended by the images.
“So many people are afraid to criticize the president. It’s great to live in a society where there are alternate views,” said Joshua Glass, 21, a senior political science major.