Alex Blaze

More gay art censored

Filed By Alex Blaze | December 15, 2010 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, Politics
Tags: Canada, censorship, london, R. Bruce Flowers

A public art exhibit in a small town library in Canada has been censored because one person found a gay sculpture offensive. The library threw a cloth over Joy-lifesize2.jpgthe sculpture (which is tame, it's "Joy" at the link, not the photo to the right) while they decide what to do. Here's what the local paper had on the one letter that got the work covered up:

In a letter published on Dec. 9, Tillsonburg resident Greg Friesen said he found it "appalling that the person(s) responsible for hosting this exhibit would be so insensitive as to put something as controversial as homosexuality in a public library."?

"Since when did a public library become a place to showcase any sort of sexuality?" he wrote. "When I go to the library with my children, I don't want to be seeing, let alone explaining homosexual intimacy to my children. If this was behind closed doors or in a spot which one had to deliberately go to view it (i.e. art gallery), I wouldn't be so irate."?"This is a public place, paid for with my tax dollars and for that reason I call for the removal of this display. My family (along with many others that I know of) will not be entering the library until such a time as this display is removed."?

So what's up with museums lately and bending over backwards to accommodate the one person who has a problem with art, even art that was hand-picked by a community board to be "family friendly"? The issue, clearly, is the fact that the artist himself is gay and his art depicts two men not hurting each other.

At first glance, this appears to be one of those situations where something would have gone unnoticed, or at least uneroticized, until it had the label "gay" slapped on it and that made it too hot for some people. While I don't like it when we gay people try to neuter ourselves to make us more presentable to a conservative audience, it's also unfair to assume that every emotion that a gay person feels is rated XXX. Sexuality exists, but not everything is about anal sex.

But then there is something with that sculpture that's bigger than the artist. While in many parts of the world two grown men holding each other and just being happy is completely acceptable, here the question of why they're happy doesn't even get brought up. Are they at someone's wedding? Are they excited by something at work? Are they great, platonic friends? Are they excited over a football match? Who knows, that's not really the point of the sculpture, but men just aren't supposed to behave that way.

It reminds me of that Seinfeld scene when George and Jerry's idea for a sitcom gets taken up by NBC and they're excited and they go to hug each other, and just as they're about to touch they realize what they're doing and turn away. It's true - even when it's perfectly natural for two straight men to express joy, they're going to try to do it in separate areas, away from one another, anything to avoid the appearance of being gay.

It's a tragedy for everyone that we're so afraid of same-sex contact, much less same-sex desire that lots of people who aren't gay or bi experience but can't acknowledge. What makes that tragedy ironic here is that joy itself has to be covered up because some people think that it's inappropriate for children to know it exists.

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THIS> "Since when did a public library become a place to showcase any sort of sexuality?" he wrote. "When I go to the library with my children"

HEY! Asswipe who wrote the stupid letter! Those children of yours? Yeah, I'm pretty sure you didn't find them under a cabbage patch. Nor did an endangered stork bring you that bundle of joy all the way from the land of Nod.
Suck it up buttercup, your children show all of us you and someone else got hot, got sweaty and bumped uglies with lots of moaning and groaning to boot.
Don't rub my face in your balant sexuality and then complain about mine (or lack of one).

And as far as that one sculpture goes, its beign. There is NO explicit or implied sexuality in the peice.

So quit yer bitchin, I'm suprised you even know where a library is.

I was thinking along similar lines. Don't like sexuality in libraries? Then keep your kids at home, since I don't need to see the end result of your fucking.

Moreover, if no sexuality is allowed in a library, then a bunch of books need to be burned in a pile outside. But this dude impresses me as one of those people who only goes to the library to get movies and a coffee.

Gina, I love you. You said a mouthful.

I really liked being kept up to date about such topics in the Gay community. Belong to a gay sight called "Seeds of Change". We have almost 2000 members and if it were possible I would like to share some of the articles you post. Would make sure that it was not changed and it would still contain the information about your sight. Pretty Please Blessings Eugene Tagtmeyer

I wonder what the good reverend Friesen (he's the assistant pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Tillsonburg) would have made of the exhibit by the same sculptor, R. Bruce Flowers, at the Rainbow Cinema in Toronto back in the summer of 2006. You can see the exhibit at this link:
or remember that Google is your friend. I don't recall any controversy arising at the time, giving one more reason to live in Toronto rather than in Tillsonburg!

gregorybrown | December 16, 2010 8:37 AM

Six years ago I assembled a display of LGBTetc books that were on shelves of the large public library branch where I worked. I included a Winky Tink figure holding a rainbow flag. A few days after the display was up, I received a copy of a letter complaining to my branch manager and the coordinator of branch services. The gist of the letter was that "someone is promoting an agenda". I agreed that a Teletubby wasn't the best part of it, since relatively few people seemed to know about Jerry Falwell's opinions of him(or whatever gender a Teletubby might be). What struck me was the thrice repeated comment that the books had "colorful and attractive covers". That was too attractive to library users, especially children, she said. I don't know if the complainer would have been any happier had two dozen brown paper wrappers been used. My response to my manager that the parent should have exercised closer supervision of her child if she wasn't happy with the display wasn't accepted. Winky Tink went into storage, and the display was taken down in less than a week. Librarians--administrators, anyway--can be wusses. On the other hand, the same folks above me defended my choices on similar displays at other times.

Paige Listerud | December 16, 2010 11:59 AM

Excuse me for going off on a tangent--but am I the only one who finds this art rather ghastly? Seriously, the "Joy" guys look manically clownish and the medium the artist is working in give the figures the pallor of corpses. I'm not sure that I want this kind of art at the library to be a representative of queer life.

That's no excuse for censoring it, of course; I'm sure there's other really bad art at the public library, in the form of tacky Western sunsets or badly done multicultural murals.

But still, do we really want children exposed to awful art depicting same-sex couples? Wouldn't that turn them off more than bible-beating prohibitions against sexuality?

Just sayin'.

I like the fact the display was defended by Father Matthew George of St. Mary's Parish. Someone we would perhaps expect to make the complaint.

And I Paige. The art is not to my taste, but lots of public art isn't. Ugly is not valid grounds for censorship.

UPDATE: The library has decided to stop censoring the piece:

I'm with Paige on the ugliness of the art but also with Tiran. I hated those damn cows that went up all over Chicago some years ago (vestiges of that project can still be spotted in some parts, and I can only try to glare them out of existence) but I was clearly in the minority. And oh, well, whatever...

But I'm also reminded of the fact that a member of Chicago's gay community here in Uptown insisted that we should not be allowed to speak when Against Equality had an event in our public library. The librarian had the guts to stand up to him.

Which is to say: a lot of the recent conversations about censoring "gay art" is resurrecting the idea that gays are automatically on the right side of the debate and that, somehow, discourse just flows freely in these here gay parts. But the truth is more complex, and the present picture of gays being censored conjures the NEA 5 days without considering some very complicated changes in the art world and in the gay community that have occurred since then (I'm thinking here of issues around capitalism and art and the way gay identity has by now been successfully corralled as a market force). Alex is right to point to this as an example of the silliness of homophobic responses to gay art. At the same time, I'd caution all of us from seeing this as a black and white issue.

And this is another reason why I'm moving as soon as possible.
But seriously that one was censored, why? it seems to be one of the tamest ones out of the whole group.
And I really hope the Friesen guy is not the one who used to be the principle of the local middle school.