Forgive me, for I have censored Over this past week, Arts DEVO has encountered three instances of art censorship locally. The first was when I heard about a friend, local arts appreciator/art student Carly Hayes, having a couple of pieces refused for Butte College Art Gallery's upcoming Post-Art exhibit, a group show featuring art created on little sticky notes. The rules stated that entries deemed “unsafe” or “extremely offensive” would be disqualified, and the two (of her six) that were refused—while obviously sexual in nature—come nowhere close to being “extremely” offensive.
The second instance happened last Saturday during the Rap Cover Night event (full disclosure: I was one of the organizers) at 1078 Gallery. In the middle of a performance, one of the attendees attempted to throw a sheet over one of the gallery's paintings—which had the Confederate flag prominently featured—before 1078 volunteers intervened. I admit, at first glance the image of a Confederate flag on the wall was jarring, especially given the setting of a rap-music celebration and benefit for a local man who is black. But looking at it close up, it was clear the piece had more going on than just the flag, which was confirmed when I called J. Pouwels, an assistant professor at Chico State and the artist whose work makes up the current exhibit (Interference).
“It's about how we're able to conveniently forget about the past,” Pouwels said about his show. The painting in question, “Uncle Tom's Cabin,” features the flag superimposed over portraits of the three Civil Rights workers murdered in Mississippi in 1964, as well as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (included for his part in overturning sections of the Voting Rights Act). Drawing a line between the racial violence of our country's past and present, Pouwels' Confederate flag has nine stars (instead of the usual 13) to represent the nine people killed in a black church in Charleston, S.C., this past summer. There also are several blank white “pixels” throughout the canvas, nine larger ones for the nine killed, and many more smaller ones for the family members left behind to mourn.
And the third instance of censorship happened when I chose not to include images of either of Hayes' two refused pieces in this column. She is now twice-censored (go Carly!). I don't believe either is remotely offensive. In fact, I believe both are wonderful, fun and expressive illustrations—one featuring a reclining nude woman with an animal-skull head who is diddling herself as the text of a Gnostic charm spills out of her; and the other, my favorite, featuring a nude, happy-looking, blue-skinned couple, with the rosy-cheeked, rosy-penised male anticipating fellatio from a rosy-cheeked, rosy-nippled female. But I can't put them in the newspaper (I took the relatively safe route of her cute couple with abstract genitalia).
I know that kids, and more important, their parents, read the CN&R, and I know that showing images of sex and self-stimulation would not be accepted by many. I tell myself that I'm just avoiding exposing kids to something that they might not be ready for, but I'm not convinced that's a good enough reason. In principle, I'm against the censorship of any art, even those works that have caused the most offense, whether it be the American flag used as a doormat or a crucifix floating in urine. None of that offends me, personally, but if something were to, thanks to the same freedom of expression that allows for the creation of art, I'm able to respond with my own ideas and maybe create a conversation. Censoring art simply shuts down conversation before it begins.
So, I encourage you to check out Interference at 1078 Gallery (reception Saturday, Nov. 14, 5-7 p.m.), and the Post-Art show at Butte College Art Gallery (reception today, Nov. 12, 4-6 p.m.) and please visit Arts DEVO on Facebook to see a tiny salon de refuses of Hayes' rejected artworks, and help keep art in the conversation.