Censorship, Art and Social Media

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Art has often been at the center of controversy. Nudity has been at the heart of such issues with the ongoing debate about what defines art vs porn.  As art is becoming more readily available on social media platforms such as Facebook, it raises the question of where the line should be drawn. Social media has become an important research source for artist, art collectors, curators, art historians and teachers. Facebook has a right to enforce rules surrounding what it defines as appropriate, however there are many who argue that this suppresses the expression and admiration of art.

Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Facebook page had featured Ice Cream by Evelyne Axell as part of its exhibition “International Pop.” The piece is colorful and represents a woman eating an ice cream cone provocatively. The work is very sexually suggestive and possibly violated Facebook’s rules. This ignited discussion on women in media. It can be argued that the woman is empowered because the piece is focused on her enjoyment. On the other hand, it can also be said that she is clearly being objectified and that the painting does nothing more than provoke shock. The image was eventually allowed to be shown on the website, but it is still the subject of a greater debate.

However, this is not the only case of nude or sexual art on Facebook. Parisian teacher, Frederic Durand-Baissas’ account was suspended after he posted about artist Gustave Courbet’s L’Orgine du Monde. The painting is an unabashed and personal view of a nude woman with her legs spread open. After losing his Facebook account, Durand-Baissas engaged in an ongoing legal battle with the website.

The major legal issue in this case is that Durand-Baissas is a French citizen and the banning violated French consumer laws. However, Facebook is based in California and, upon signing up, users agree to take issues to Californian courts. Another factor is a ruling last year that favored French courts protecting French Facebook users. Regardless, Durand-Baissas’ lawyer has stated that Facebook seems to deem violent imagery as permissible and treats nudity with greater disdain. This may point to greater biases as the court case continues.

Currently, it seems that Facebook did not have a clear solution in either of these cases. Beyond complex legal issues and morality debates, this points to the evolving relationship between social media and art. Social media is still new and the questions surrounding nudity and art are age old ones. Regardless of your affiliation with the art world, as an art lover this is an issue to be aware of before posting nude or sexually provocative artworks.

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