I recently moved to a great new studio space on Central. I have my own locking room with three big windows, carpet, acoustical ceiling, hi-speed internet, and the space has a shared conference room, kitchenette, lobby and restrooms. I love it. Most of the dozen other artists are there during the day, so when I drag in after work, I often have the place to myself. It's a great place to work on my photography and painting.

This past week a weird thing happened.

One of the photographers was asked by management to remove one of his photos from the corridor and related greeting card from the display rack in the lobby. A female artists was offended.

Granted, his work does employ a lot of nudes. His focus is on the fetish community. The photo in question showed the torso of a woman clad in panties with some sort of string nipple clamps on. She was holding the string between the clamps. The was nobody else in the photo. He was not happy about removing the items, but complied as a compromise to the studio group. He had already self-censored by not placing any of his very explicit pieces in the corridor.

Now he has been told that many of the artists are complaining about his work to the management. They say it is offensive in general and do not want it displayed in common areas. When I heard that, I was shocked. These people are artists?

If his work makes them uncomfortable, it is doing exactly what it is supposed to. I asked him what exactly did they say offended them? He does not know, because not one of these cowards has bothered to speak with him about his work. If they had, they would have learned that the models are all people he knows from the fetish community. Nobody was asked to pose in any way they weren't comfortable with. Most shoots were supervised by husband, boyfriends, or others. These are women with jobs and self-respect, not underage runaways from the bus station. His work is a reflection of his life and interests. And he is being judged without being understood.

I do not know a lot about this fetish community, being an outsider to it myself. But I can appreciate his work as giving me a glimpse into something normally unseen, but there. And isn't that a goal of art - to illuminate things one doesn't usually see? To show us things about ourselves and our culture? If not, why don't we all just paint pictures of kittens and flowers? Better yet, the exact same kitten and flower - wouldn't want to go out a limb, someone may get offended.

Many things about this bother me.
Freedom of expression is essential in an art community. Art without risk is just insipid pablum.
Who gets to decide what should be censored? Should we all vote on what gets to be shown in our corridors and at our shows? Who ever heard of art by committee? It smacks of McCarthy-ism.
Is this group so puritanical that they cannot abide anything to do with sexuality? Or are they judging the community pictured? Are they homophobic as well as xenophobic? What about different religions? Would religious iconography be censored, too? What about politics? Also verboten?

I respect the right of anyone to dislike any piece of art. And to not buy it and not support the artist. But to try to silence someone by denying them the right to express themselves through their art really bothers me.

The problem with censorship is it prohibits free thinking and it does not know where to stop.

Views: 17

Tags: art, bullshit, censorship

Comment by Fenton Ayres on April 29, 2008 at 12:28pm
"All too often, fetish photography is viewed by many as pornographic or obscene. My goal is to change that perception. I want people to see fetish photography as an art form."

These are my words that I used in a press release that was done when I published my first book of artistic fetish images in 2006. These words summarize how I feel about the work that I produce. I knew from the start that my work would be viewed as controversial by many and that it would also many others very uncomfortable. And although I have run into countless times before, I have always been confronted with it in an atmosphere where I could respond and explain my motivation. This is new territory for me.

I come from an extremely conservative, and prejudicial background. I was raised A.M.E. and as an African American growing up in the early 70's, I was brought up to not trust anyone who was not. I was studying to be a pastor at one point and I actually worked as a lay pastor for some time. I say all of this to show that I come from a very judging background and I was quite comfortable in the role for some time. It was not until I actually began to question my beliefs (and to determine whether or not they were truly MY beliefs or if I just inherited them from family, etc.) that I began to see that I was really making some wrong decisions about people. Quite often I judged people because I did not truly understand them, or because I had some preconceived notion of who they were. And this was quite often on information shared with me by people that were just as ill informed as I was. This is how prejudice and bigotry is allowed to perpetrate: people become comfortable in a certain mindset and they feel threaten by the OPPORTUNITY to examine that mindset and to possibly grow. Living in another country also helped because like many other people, I was extremely xenophobic. I was immersed in another country for some time and I had to live as they did, speak as they did and learn about their culture. Once again, my eyes were opened to assumptions that I had about other cultures and the experience helped me grow as a person. And I think that it made me a better person.

I know that my art is not for everyone. Not all art is for me. But I appreciate all art even if I myself do not like it. And that is an important distinction. Art is a personal expression of the artist; it says something about them. And I know that mine certainly does. I am a proud member of the fetish community, but I am also a responsible member. I conduct my business in an honourable way and I treat all my clients and models with the utmost respect. And I have removed the barriers that I used to have to expanding my knowledge and experiences with others. And I know when something makes me uncomfortable, instead of running away, I embrace it as an OPPORTUNITY to grow. Because I have learned, that in the quest for knowledge and enlightenment, if you are not uncomfortable, you have grown stagnant. The measure of the individual is what they chose to do with the experience and the OPPORTUNITY for growth and learning. I chose to be uncomfortable and grow as opposed to being comfortable and stagnant.
Comment by Benny the Icepick on April 29, 2008 at 12:47pm
Comment by Your Sharona on April 29, 2008 at 1:17pm
Amen, Fenton.
Thank you, Ben!
Comment by PidderBear on April 29, 2008 at 2:52pm
***This comment was stricken by the neo-christian right who deemed it unworthy of the high moral standards that they have self imposed on all artists of every stripe. Had it been in compliance, it still would have been deleted as being too inflammatory, too indecent, too provocative, too (insert adjective of the moment here), to be seen by the "General Public".***
Comment by LaRue on April 29, 2008 at 3:15pm
I too, am surprised that any artist would seek to quash another artist's work. We're a community, and we thrive or die as a community. Our right for self-expression is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights in this country, and most artists I know applaud exploration and self-discovery as an artists divine right. Much of the art we consider masterpieces from bygone eras would not be here for us to enjoy if the morality of the day were the determinant of what art works were acceptable and which were not. Have a little courage, folks, and examine your feelings a little more deeply.
Comment by Fenton Ayres on April 29, 2008 at 3:19pm
I know this struck a nerve with me. Sounds like it did with others as well.
Comment by Raine K. on April 29, 2008 at 3:38pm
Wow, this blows me away. Seems that the person(s) complaining must have some underlying issues regarding sexuality, body image, etc. that they should be confronting in themselves - instead of resorting to censorship of another artist.
Comment by Fenton Ayres on April 29, 2008 at 3:57pm
I have not accused anyone of anything like that. The main issue I have is that I discussed all of this PRIOR to moving into the studio. And I made a point of not placing any large prints or explicits things in public areas. I have complied with the wishes of the owners and removed the work in question from the public areas, as requested.
Comment by Your Sharona on April 29, 2008 at 4:13pm
Grow up, Kitson? That's funny. You and your artist friends have discussed all of this behind Fenton's back.
Comment by Raine K. on April 29, 2008 at 4:15pm
I've had my children around Fenton's work at gallery shows without any issues or reservations. As noted, he self-censors in order to be appropriate for the venues he is in.


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