The Scavenger

Salvaging whats left after the masses have had their feed

VSF-468x60

Thu03302017

Last updateTue, 29 Mar 2016 6am

Menu Style

Cpanel
Back You are here: Home Sex, Gender & Sexuality Diversity - [Archived] GLB Queer art censored at queer arts festival

Queer art censored at queer arts festival

CensoredAfter volunteering to help out at a queer art exhibition in the UK, Jane Hoy was ordered to cover up some of the works with masking tape and subsequently sought answers to what appeared to be censorship based on homophobia.

13 December 2010

The atmosphere in the atrium at Hampstead Town Hall was relaxed and mellow. I enjoyed discussing the artwork on the walls with the young people passing through on their way to media workshops and the older people waiting for classes in literature and art appreciation. I encouraged visitors to complete evaluations, most of which are glowing.

I was a volunteer at GFEST, London’s LGBT arts festival during November 2010. It featured more than 80 artists in exhibitions, theatre, dance and performance, short films and workshops. My job was to keep an eye on the art exhibition at this historic building in north London.

However on a Friday afternoon, Subodh Rathod, GFEST’s administrative director who has also been looking after the exhibition, asked me to help cover some of the artworks for the weekend.

I was very taken aback at this request and Subodh told me that the management of the centre were concerned that the artwork might be seen by young people and their parents. It wasn’t clear to us why this was a problem, but it was clear that if we didn’t do it they would shut down the show.

We indulged in a few bad jokes along the lines of writing ‘Guidelines for viewing a gay art exhibition in a climate of fear and homophobia’. But we got busy with wallpaper and masking tape, although I felt increasingly uncomfortable about colluding in this unexpected activity.

The Town Hall is managed by Interchange, a social enterprise which provides and hosts community services such as the WAC arts and media project for young people. Interchange’s mission statement is very clear, including a promise to ‘use the arts to make a positive difference to the lives of local excluded and disadvantaged people, particularly young people’.

We were intrigued and bemused by the criteria this equal-opportunities charity had devised. Acting on instructions from Interchange staff, we covered up 10 of the 21 photos and paintings.

Corrine_BotSix of these included parts of women’s nude bodies (mostly breasts). Among the other works we covered were a graphic work illustrating the homophobia a young gay man will encounter before he dies, a picture of two pairs of elderly knees, a ceramic mug depicting the many names for vagina and a piece which says ‘Never Mind the Bollocks – here come the transsexuals’.

I felt more and more ashamed about my role in this censorship, which seemed to suggest that the very existence of works by gay artists poses some kind of threat. For the record, I took some photos of the mutilated exhibition.

One vivid image remains uncensored. A picture of a man’s head gagged with a red bandana. It says it all.

I continued to volunteer but vowed not to collude in any more censorship and to make further enquiries into the situation.

GFEST’s artistic director, Niranjan Kamatkar, told me: “I was hurt by these instructions for a cover-up. It’s contrary to everything I stand for and that GFEST stands for, which is to openly promote the work of LGBT artists.”

He said that Interchange gave these instructions just days before the opening of the exhibition and withdrew their original agreement to allow the show to open on Saturday evenings. As the exhibition was only open during the day on weekdays, a Saturday evening viewing would have allowed working people to visit.

This put the organisers between a rock and a hard place. It was too late to find another venue.  “We were forced into a choice, to take the whole exhibition down or put up with the criteria,” Niranjan explained. “If we didn’t do what Interchange wanted they would close the exhibition. Artists’ work wouldn’t be seen and we might seem like unreliable organisers, which might jeopardise future funding.’

Later that week, there was a debate entitled What is Gay Art? hosted by the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington. It’s a well attended event, full of exciting ideas. But it seems to me a million miles away from what’s going on at the GFEST exhibition. At question time, I ask the panel for their responses to the censorship.

Journalist Paul Burston was able to give a knowledgeable response. Not only does he edit the gay section of Time Out magazine, but he sat on the panel that selected the art for the exhibition.

“I can’t recall any images that could be construed as even mildly offensive”, said Paul, adding that it is a shame that Interchange has missed an opportunity for the young people who use the building to engage with the GFEST exhibition and learn about the contribution LGBT artists make to culture and society.

He also referred to research evidence which suggests that where LGBT issues are openly discussed with young people, the extent of homophobic bullying has declined and a more positive attitude to gay people has developed.

This made me wonder even more about how and why Interchange’s decision to mask some of the artwork was made. I called WAC, the performing arts and media college for young people. I was told by the young man who answers the phone that they are inappropriate images, as children and young people between the ages of five and 25 use the building.

CoveredWhen I press him on the criteria, he referred me to Craig Huxley, the Events Manager at Interchange. Craig said his impression is that reactions to the exhibition have been varied, from the majority which have been very positive, to a few older people who complained “but were then found to be taking a closer look at the exhibits”.

Craig said the real issue is that four- and five-year-old children and their parents use the building at the weekend and there was a feeling that the parents “might not like” the images and titles of the artworks. He also said that when public events are held security is always an issue as it is difficult to control who enters the building and there might be “inappropriate behaviour”.

I was unable to discover what this “behaviour” might be – and baffled by the security issue. Members of the public, coming to see the exhibition over its two-week run in November, used a side door from the street. But this door was kept locked: my job was to open it for each visitor and keep an eye on them while they enjoyed the exhibition.

The only other way in was through the main entrance and a series of doors which could only be opened by swipe-card holders such as staff and students.

Setting this aside, I asked Craig about the criteria for which works should be covered. He felt there were no specific criteria and that my suggestion that women’s breasts were a priority for the masking-tape treatment was “reading something too deep”.

He told me that decisions were made at a meeting of senior managers, including the child protection officer. Each manager saw slides of the artworks and, on the basis of suggestions made by individuals, a general consensus was reached as to the 10 artworks which might cause offence.

Artists’ reactions

So what do the artists think about their work being censored? Corrine Bot was one of the artists whose work got the masking tape treatment. She felt that the exhibition was “really virtuous”, a view she shared with Kimi Tayler, another artist whose work was censored.

Kimi felt strongly that “all the work in the show was beautiful and extraordinary” and that “the subtlety made the show something incredibly special as it did not feel the need to be explicit and confrontational. As a collection of works it had a quieter approach, which really had something important to say.”

Jason_WoodsonJason Woodson’s piece featured the head and shoulders of a young man. Behind him is a list of the everyday prejudice and discrimination he will face as he tries to live his life as a gay man.

Jason only discovered that his work had been banned when he went to collect it. “There is nothing offensive or inflammatory in the piece and I struggle to understand why it would be deemed too challenging for young children,” he said. “We are living in a world where young gay men and women are killing themselves because they feel that they are alone and that their lives have no meaning.’

Kimi is a young artist, who comes well within the age limit of 25 that Interchange considers too vulnerable to see the artworks. Her response reminded me that there are likely to be young LGBT people using the building and that, of course, there may also be queer parents.

She wondered if the work would have been censored if it wasn't an LGBT exhibition and said that she felt insulted that her work, which contains a nude, should be covered up.

“Frankly I find it laughable that a life study could be deemed offensive in 2010. On their logic we should cover up all the great works involving nudes in all the major museums and galleries in this country! If it was done solely to protect children, any newsagent that sells tabloid newspapers and lads’ mags should come with a warning,” said Kimi.

Kimi_TaylerI was left feeling saddened, frustrated and angry at Interchange’s decision to cover up works of art that they deemed too challenging.

The choices of the LGBT community, represented by the professional artists on the GFEST selection panel, were overridden in a second level of censorship by a team of managers, who presumably have not been appointed for their artistic or creative experience.

As Jason Woodson said, “It reinforces the idea that we are somehow dangerous or intolerable. It sends the signal that our thoughts, our fears, our lives can be pushed back into the closet and silenced.”

Homophobia, it seems, is alive and well at Interchange. And it’s not only the artists and the LGBT community who were silenced. By censoring this exhibition, Interchange effectively prevented young people, their families and the general public from enjoying and engaging with this exhibition.

What a pity they couldn’t get behind the event in the way that Prime Minister David Cameron suggested in his letter of support to GFEST, when he reminded us, “Events like this enrich our society and challenge us to think more about the world around us.”

 

Jane Hoy is retired from full-time work and is now freelance. She enjoys performing with London Playback Theatre, dancing Latin and ballroom on the LGBT scene, and spending time with her partner Helen in the Welsh mountains.

Images from top: Censored artwork, photo by Jane Hoy; JJunderwear by Corrine Bot, photo courtesy of the artist; Covered artwork, photo by Jane Hoy; This Kid (20 Years On) - A tribute to David Wojnarowicz by Jason Woodson, photo courtesy of the artist; Stags in Drag by Kimi Tayler; photo courtesy of the artist.

 

 

 

 

Comments   

0 #10 Valerie Hunt 2011-06-30 13:32
I am increasingly becoming ashamed/incredu lous/saddened but hardened by attitudes here in England, the land of my birth. :sad::sad::sad: I was brought up to believe in freedom of speech and expression, and the right to pursue the truth. What ever happened to that right? Do we now have to pretend to each other and to our children? Do we have to portray a world of .............. what? Lies? Oh England why hast thy rulers bowed down to these morons?
Quote
0 #9 Pieter Wessels 2010-12-26 17:43
I am appalled. I wish I could honestly say that I never expected this type of censorship in the UK - but the truth is I am not entirely surprised. I am grateful that you have taken a stand and written about this incident. What truly upsets me is how quickly we throw away the rights that others fought to gain for us. How often have I hear friends and colleagues say "well - it would be very difficult for them to take it away now, wouldn't it?". Don't use it and you'll lose it.
Quote
0 #8 Kathryn Roberts 2010-12-26 01:50
Thank you for sharing this experience with us. It seems that censorship is the theme in 2010. It's too bad that this example didn't receive the same attention and support from journalists, demonstrators and galleries that the Smithsonian's removal of David Wojnarowicz's video from the "Hide/Seek" exhibition did.
Quote
0 #7 Kathryn Roberts 2010-12-26 01:46
Thanks you for the wonderful article. Censorship seems to be a major theme in 2010, and this example is no less outrageous than the Smithsonian's removal of David Wojnarowicz's video from the "Hide/Seek" exhibition. It's a shame that hundreds of demonstrators, journalists and galleries didn't respond to this example as they did in the States.
Quote
0 #6 Jan Morley 2010-12-16 07:54
Thank you Jane for bringing this to our attention. I find I get this sort of reaction a lot - especially around naked bodies. It seems to me that if people were more open about appreciating nakedness and having discussions about it then we would not get this kind of knee-jerk response. I am absolutely horrified that Jason's piece was also covered up - what was offensive about it? My mug has different words for Vagina on it - including the C word - which is the whole point of the work in that I am trying to reclaim a perfectly good word that for some reason is so offensive that it can't be said on the BBC! Computer games are widely sold to youngsters depicting horrific violence and killing but show images of a naked body or images celebrating a LGBT theme and they are censored.
Jan Morley - Liberty Bodies http://www.libertybodies.com
Quote
0 #5 Len Mackin 2010-12-13 13:53
A sad story. We had a similar problem when our gallery www.gallery150.co.uk staged an exhibition in a community space run by a third sector organisation. No nudes in the exhibition but the work of the artist explored the relationship of the food we eat and peoples body image. There were photographs of very obese people - we had to remove three of the images as they might cause offence to overweight people!!!

The simple answer to this is that public and third sector organisations should not be considered as places where exhibitions are shown. They are two risk averse, political correct and frankly full of philostines. Do what we did in the end - use a vacant shop on the high street, there are lots of them!
Quote
0 #4 VG Lee 2010-12-13 09:12
An excellent piece and I hope it will be read widely and initiate some serious questions. As far as I can see from reading the article, an assumption was made that young children and their parents might be offended and that's it - grounds for censorship. It is a pity that once the artworks were covered, something like CENSORED! could have been emblazoned across the covers.
Quote
0 #3 Jay 2010-12-13 07:33
Good work Jane. This is pretty ridiculous. I didn't get a chance to see it (only just returned to London from exile) but the pictures show what terrible judgement the censors had. And they didn't even tell the artists!
Quote
0 #2 Stephen Warwick 2010-12-12 07:47
Bottom Line: This frank admission is much appreciated. That said, that two people so closely associated with GFEST in both hearts and minds acquiesced in this literal cover-up was a mistake and demonstrated a lack of good judgement on their part. I venture to say the alternative of closure would have proved to be far more palatable (however regrettable) both to the artists involved and for those who attended such as I.
Quote
0 #1 Jason Woodson 2010-12-12 07:24
Great piece, Jane. Thoroughly enjoyed it and appreciate your efforts to address the situation.
Quote

Add comment


Security code
Refresh

Share this post

Submit to DeliciousSubmit to DiggSubmit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to StumbleuponSubmit to TechnoratiSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn

Personal Development

personal-development
Be the change.