Last week our campus hosted the first ever “mural slam” featuring work by our students as well as artists from the local community. Much of the work is politically oriented and critiques war, conformity in higher education, surveillance by government, and so forth. Much to my surprise, some of my women colleagues think some of these images are misogynist and offensive to women and should be condemned.
Now, over the past couple of years we have several blatantly offensive articles and cartoons printed by our campus newspaper. However, I’m very uncomfortable with censoring student artwork that is ambiguous and open to interpretation and in several cases is being used to satisfy coursework requirements.
I pointed out that a recent exhibit at our university gallery, “Female Forms and Facets,” which featured artwork by such noted feminist artists as Judy Chicago and Carolee Schneemann, also caught some flack from a few student gallery workers who refused to help install the exhibit (I guess they didn’t like Schneemann’s vulvas and Chicago’s penises). I’m sure there are folks on campus who don’t like the “Vagina Monologues,” either.
So, I warned my colleagues to be careful about heading down the path of censorship, because it could backfire. I even pointed out that some of the murals are by female students and local artists and that it would be more constructive to engage them in a conversation about their work rather than condemn it outright.
For more on the subject, see Feminists for Free Expression.
P.S. Some readers have asked which ones were considered offensive. This one seems to have raised the most concern. The student who painted it said she was making a commentary on children as soldiers and the cycle of birth/death in wartime.
Historical note: This year is the tenth anniversary of National Endowment for the Arts v. Karen Finley, in which the Supreme Court decided it was NOT unconstitutional for the NEA to vet grant proposals for “decency.”