The National Coalition Against Censorship has written to the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London, Connecticut, urging them to restore a censored work. A video of a guest-curated exhibit was taken down because it “disturbed the public” and was considered by the museum to be “inappropriate for children”. This act of censorship goes against the museum’s obligations towards its public, as well as towards the artists it exhibits and the curatorial collectives with which it works.
Nasty Women Connecticut organizers held their sixth annual Expo, The will to change: coming together as a practice, at the Lyman Allyn Museum. The organizers invited artists to submit work for the exhibition through an open call. The video chosen by Rebecca Goyette, “My snake is bigger than your snake”, was presented, along with all the other works, in the presence of the museum’s exhibition manager. The exhibition opened on June 18 and will run until August 12, 2022. However, three days after its presentation, Ms. Goyette’s work was removed and she was asked to donate a non-video piece to the place. At the request of the organizers, an explanatory note placed next to the placeholder piece acknowledged the censorship and attempted to mitigate it by adding a QR code linking to the video.
While the transparency provided by the explanatory memorandum is commendable, it does not change the fact that the work has been censored. Ms. Goyette’s video certainly contains humorous and burlesque references to sex, but it is far from being obscene or harmful to minors. By removing it, the management of the Museum has made an arbitrary decision that silences an artist and deprives the public of the chance to see the work.
References to sexuality are present in many works, both classical and contemporary. Seductive nudes and scenes of violence and rape adorn the halls of most museums. Children and school groups visit and come out unscathed. Contemporary feminist treatments of sexuality may be more in your face, but, arguably, present a healthier, often funnier, and fairer viewpoint. To judge a work unsuitable for the museum solely because it refers to sexuality is both surprising and disappointing. And, if the reason is that the work’s references to sexuality lack the “decorum” of classical paintings, then the problem is compounded: there is a sad irony when a show, which brings together cutting-edge work on gender, sexuality and change, is censored. due to its display of representational conventions.
There are a range of other options to address any concerns regarding the underage audience. It is possible to post signs advising the public that art is often disturbing and that they should exercise discretion when bringing underage children – indeed, we understand that such a sign has been placed at the entrance to the whole show. The Museum can also work with the organizers to adjust the placement of the works in order to make less visible pieces that some might consider unsuitable for children. The only option that a cultural institution should always avoid is the outright elimination of work.
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