Community Standards: Policy, Policing and Censorship in Art

Graphic Artist and Designer Orijit Sen’s nude work titled ‘Punjaban’ was flagged and pulled down(and later restored) from Facebook last year. This was followed by another work titled ‘She came in through the bathroom window’ because they “violated” Facebook’s “Community Standards” by their “Objectionable nudity”. Soon, there was action — supporters asked the artist to inbox them the image that was pulled down, and then, reposted it from their online accounts and was shared widely, in a bid to “tell Facebook it can’t muzzle our freedom of choice and expression with its moral policing.”

Censorship in art continues to be a large-scale conversation and it’s not all pretty and beautiful as the world thinks it to be. Amidst these masterpieces stand some of the most controversial artworks accused of being transgressive, regressive, taboo, offensive, vulgar, racist, antinational etc. All through the time artworks have been tampered, hushed and in some cases even destroyed due to intolerable subject matters sensitive to religion or for socio political reasons. Yet creative people have long opposition on limits of “offensive” with their imaginations and content, portraying the whole lot of sex to shaming.

At this critical junction where the meaning of artistic expression and creative freedoms need to be constantly tested for their weight and worth, we’re remembering few of the most noted instances in the history of censorship in art.

1565: Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgement”

Many experts of Catholic religion, counting Pope Daniele de Volterra, deemed Michelangelo’s famed Sistine Chapel fresco unholy and immoral. The picture portrays nude humans rising or falling to their strange beliefs; A few reviewers could barely think upon the spiritual significance while watching all the naked body parts. A student of Michelangelo afterwards supplemented loin clothes to the old nude figures.

1865 and 1866: Edouard Manet’s “Olympia” and Gustave Courbet’s “The Origin of the World”

With painted nudes like Michelangelo’s work becoming accepted and revered by the 19th century classical nudes were very tolerable language of art. Manet’sred-headed naked was declared “vulgar” because of her firm look and real representation. Olympia stares right into the eyes of the viewer with confidence, celebrating erotic glory. Manet decided to depict nakedness with reality. Even though the artwork was authorized to display at Paris’ annual salon, 1865 (no censorship there), two cops were appointed to guard the painting from fuming spectators who flocked the show. A year later stoked a storm with the painting of a vulva. Turkish art collector and diplomat Khalil-Bey commissioned it.Rumour has it that the work was exhibited to others from behind the curtain. The artwork wasn’t shown in public until 1995. And, yes, this work too seems to violate Facebook’s community standards for it was censored in 2011”.

2012: Pussy Riot’s “Punk Prayer — Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!”

During February 2012, donning brightly colored miniskirts and balaclavas, five band members of the feminist punk rock band Pussy Riot performed in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior, revolting against the church support that Vladimir Putin has received during the election. The group grooved madly while uproaring “Mother of God, Blessed Virgin, drive out Putin!” After forty seconds police removed them. Consequently, three of the band was find guilty of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” and were locked up as a result. After massive protests all over the world they were bailed in 2013. They eventually performed with Madonna.

2014: Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds

Chinese artist cum activist Ai has faced the communist government’s wrath on several occasions. It has been a highly publicized relationship driven by recognition and restriction. Ai was believed to display his ceramic sunflower seeds at an art show honouring the 15th anniversary of the Chinese Contemporary Art Award in 2014 for which he had served as the Jury on three occasions and was a founding member as well. With the force from the Chinese rule, which Ai has never been reserved about slating, his artwork was disposed from the “15 Years Chinese Contemporary Art Award” show. That is not where it stops, the museum employees removed Ai’s name from the award’s past winners list and panel of adjudicators. Ai remains unable to leave China as a result of his arrest in 2011.

On a closing note I’d like to quote Sen, “There is so much of violence and pornographic content online. This makes it even more important for us to battle censorship to ensure that there is positive representation of the of art, of nudity and women!”

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