Saturday, December 20, 2008

Gallery 37 and Censorship of Student Art

Tomi Mick, a home-schooled high school-age student was taking AP photo classes at Gallery 37, called a protest for Dec. 19, when her photos, a series exploring female bodies at different ages, was censored from the final exhibition. The protest was organized by Females United for Action (FUFA), a Chicago-wide social change organization for people who identify as young women and gender-queer/ gender-neutral youth, with the leadership of youth of color at the center of their organizing. FUFA is a sister group of Women and Girls Collective Action Network. Here, Tomi shows her censored art in front of Gallery 37. Students going and going from classes in the building were overwhelmingly supportive of Tomi and FUFA’s requests that Gallery 37:
  • Educate students and parents about the need for freedom of artistic expression;
  • Clearly outline its art-making boundaries;
  • Meet with youth from FUFA to discuss setting a policy welcoming thought-provoking art and young feminist visibility.
These seem like reasonable, even fairly mild, requests.

Here is Tomi’s statement about what happened to her:

Gallery 37 in downtown Chicago, Illinois has a very prestigious AP art program for high school juniors and seniors looking to advance in their art career and prepare AP portfolios. They advertise their students as "the best of the best," and once inside, they force us through tons of college prep workshops and encourage us to apply to at least 10 art schools each.

I auditioned for and was admitted to the AP Photographic Explorations program. As a photography student of two years (this being my third), I was ready to explore my ideas and find my artistic concentration. Recently I've been working on images that portray women in un-conventional ways in order to challenge common ideas about the female body. I created an unfinished piece of my little sister, me, and my mother, neck to belly-button, nude. The photos are created to sit next to each other in chronological order. They are supposed to demonstrate the differences in our bodies due to age, development, shape, body-type, etc. I was hoping to post the series in this Friday's end of the semester's art show. My teacher, Mr. Cinoman, was with me all the way. He supported me when my idea was just an idea, and he supported me once it was executed. Monday, 4 days before the show, Mr. Cinoman tells me that he decided that my piece was too controversial to display, and that I would not be able to put them in the show. He also refused to give me my prints until the end of the two-hour period, after I said that I was leaving and not coming back.

There were never any written or verbal rules explaining what the boundaries were at Gallery 37, and as I said before, my teacher supported me until he had time to think about "the conservative Hispanic parents" that would be attending the show (Yes, he really said that).

Art is supposed to be controversial. We can't stand for this type of censorship of arts, especially the body-positive feminist kind. :) Who knows how many young artists have lost the desire to make art after encountering programs like this?

There’s a lot packed into Tomi’s analysis, but the bottom line is that a young woman lost a chance to show her art and get real feedback from an audience. But Tomi and FUFA turned this into a “teachable moment” anyway. Good for them. But too bad for all the rest of Gallery 37’s students that the organization, or perhaps just one teacher, couldn’t figure out how to educate by showing this work.


yamani said...

i'm glad you were able to make it therese . i love FUFA i'm sorry i couldn't be there after all.

~Easy said...

I'm not sure that a desire not to offend a group of parents constitutes grave censorship.

I disagree with the statement that "art should be controversial". I do believe that art CAN be controversial, and it is the duty of the artist to make the observer think.

I do agree that the guidelines should have been spelled out more clearly, but I'm not sure that it should be necessary to tell participants not to use use nude photo's of children. That's sort of like making McDonalds warn people that the coffee is hot. Granted, the images were not what I would consider to be pornographic, but pornography is in the eye of the beholder.

However, if nothing else, Tomi (and you) has at least accomplished the primary goal of the artist, even if the art wasn't displayed.