If you have ever wandered the halls of a high school on your way to an event, you’ve seen the proudly exhibited artwork by students: smudgy charcoal renderings of fashion-model faces, crude piles of clay resembling bowls, lots of amateurish effort but precious little actual talent, certainly no actual personal style, and no meaningful content whatsoever. Now we have the spectacle of Mill River Union High School denying a student exhibit space for a work that is mature in concept, carried out masterfully in a powerful, professional-level work that does what modern art, at its best, is supposed to do: challenge complacency and unsettle thoughts.

That the project by Lea-Or Tooti Zarfati-Eirmann does just that seems to be a problem for Mill River. Why?

Two years ago, Mill River was touting its academic excellence in a mighty effort to draw students away from Ludlow’s Black River High School. Parents and Superintendent Younce bent over backwards to denigrate Black River’s academic quality and extoll that of Mill River. It was suburban ambition pitted against a gritty “blue-collar” town.

One would have thought a student production such as this would win accolades.

And indeed it has, from the Poultney (another formerly “blue-collar” town) art teacher to the general public.

Principal Weideman claims to speak for all when he deems this project “inappropriate.” What is “inappropriate,” anyway? Naked ladies, maybe? But some of the greatest artists in Western culture flew in the face of Victorian prudishness and depicted naked ladies in clearly significant statements about the human condition.

Here we have another such statement. Just because the show depicts females “tied up,” the message is not necessarily to condone bondage but to expose it, especially for young women who often feel locked into situations not of their choosing.

Lea-Or Tooti Zarfati-Eirmann will survive this. In fact, she will thrive, because the world recognizes genius such as hers, and now the world knows that Mill River Union High School does not.

Weideman, loosen up! Or was it her exotic, hyphenated name that threw you for a loop?

Julia Purdy is a Rutland resident.

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