Artistic License, Controversy and Censorship

This quarter, all three photography classes; Black & White I, Color Photo, and Alternative Processes, participated in a project entitled “Questioning the Archive” which included a large-format self-portrait component as well as an additional archive. The self-portraits were displayed in the windows of Wilson Library, facing outward on 3 sides of the building.

Due to the nature of the project, it being presented in a public arena, it is subject to critique, vandalism, and can spark controversy. Several images have been moved or torn down and vandalized during the duration of this exhibition, including the disappearance of one particular image (as pictured above) by student Andrew Figgs.

This image has stirred up some controversy on campus and among visitors; whether directed at the fact that the image discusses gender identy and portrayal, or the use of the middle finger; discussion is being raised about artistic license and censorship.

From the photography professor, Garth Amundson:

Timeline and Facts:

1. Tuesday, May 25th, a 5th grade teacher from the county contacted me regarding Andrew Figgs’s piece. We had a civil discussion, and she was concerned that her students were exposed to the image. When I questioned her about what she found offensive, she didn’t really describe whether it was the middle finger or the cross-dressing. In any case, I stressed that I would not ask the student to remove the work, and that Western is a liberal arts institution, where students are invited to explore and express themselves. She said that she was going to write me, and I told her that I looked forward to her letter and I’d use it as a point of discussion in the classroom. To date she has not sent a letter.

2.  Later that day I sent an email to Chris Cox, the dean of libraries stating my position about students’ right to express themselves, and I assumed that the whole incident would quickly blow over.

3. Even later that day, one of my coworkers said that the 5th grade teacher’s concerns had been a point of discussion in an art department faculty meeting.

4. In order to address it directly, I emailed Madge Gleeson, art department chair, and Dean Guyette, CFPA, filling them in on the situation. Again, stating my position about the project, and students’ right to self expression on the university campus.

5. Unfortunately, over the Memorial Day weekend, Andrew’s piece was removed. According to Andrew, he spoke with Chris Cox, and he explained that it’s the risk of displaying work in the library. I don’t agree with this perspective, and I do think the work should be respected and remain in place. I’ve done this project for several years without incident.

 

Do you agree with replacing the print?

Should art on campus be appropriate for 5th graders?

How does audience, or “the public” define art?

What is your responsibility as an artist?

Is art inherently political? Landscape, body art, painting, photography?

Is this a non-issue to you because your piece is still hanging in the library windows?

 

Please share your comments and thoughts below. This is an open forum for anyone to discuss their opinions.