left - Alessandra Moctezuma, right- Scott Gengelbach

Scott Gengelbach’s, “Shot in the back,” had a significant portion of itself removed containing the text-oriented delivery of the work’s message.

Art exhibition vandalism sparks discussion on law enforcement

December 9, 2020

Three art pieces critiquing American law enforcement were vandalized over the Thanksgiving break at Mesa College’s outdoor art exhibition. 

On Nov. 28, the damaged works were discovered by a local resident neighboring the Mesa College campus, according to Alessandra Moctezuma, the director of the Art Gallery and professor of the museum studies class. He reported the vandalism to the campus police department and to local San Diego news service KPBS. 

The three pieces in question express contempt for policing practices and immigration law enforcement, said the artists in statements to KPBS. 

“I painted it specifically for this show knowing that the show would be opening the same week as the election results. I wanted to make a painting about climate change and police brutality, two subjects that I’m passionate about and I think we have major problems with in this country,” said Katie Carrion, painter of  “The World on Fire.” 

A circle scraped into the canvas of Katie Carrion’s, “The World on Fire,” around a burning police car.
(Alessandra Moctezuma )

Carrion’s piece was the only original work of the three; the two other pieces were digitally printed on vinyl fabric sheets, which was in preparation for this type of scenario according to Moctezuma. 

“It’s not rare,” said the art gallery director. “When you’re dealing with a subject matter where people’s opinions are divided… you will have a reaction.” Moctezuma refers to these types of reactions as “part and parcel” of creating art. It is a necessary and desired dialogue that manifests from such a creation, according to the artists.

John Calavita-Dos’s piece sits sliced at the end. (Alessandra Moctezuma)

“To look at the positive, I think it means that people are reacting to art, which is a good thing… When art is attacked, that means it’s having an effect,” said John Calavita-Dos Santos on KPBS, creator of, “We shall be riding dragons in the future to melt ICE.” This is a text-based piece that “raises issues of the carceral state, militarization and policing, public monuments and memory, and ICE raids and immigration reform,” the artist said in a statement provided to the exhibition.

“It’s very sad to me but I’m happy that my painting evoked some feelings. And to me that’s success, that’s what art is about,” said Carrion. 

Supporting the goal pursued by these artists, Moctezuma adds that this incident may be a sign to have more open forums to speak about ideas publicly. “It’s, maybe not the best way, but it is some way to try and have a dialogue.” The director said that discussions like this may be a catalyst to produce some type of social shift chained by fear.

“Sometimes we are afraid to change things, you know? We are used to things being a certain way, and we are afraid to challenge them — even if we’re not happy with them, because changing them takes a lot of effort and energy.”

The pieces have been reprinted and put up for display until Dec. 9.


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