Last weekend (12-14th August), was the Aberdeen Alternative-Pride festival. A weekend that according to their website stated:
We believe Pride is a political tool. Aberdeen has a long way to go in the fight for liberation; hate crime against the community is not a rare occurrence, neither is discrimination. HIV is still a problem. As a local community we are challenged on a daily basis. On an international level people across the world are attacked and murdered for attending Pride. Pride gives us the opportunity to unite together; to fight for liberation and to celebrate our diversity.
Pride as a political, social tool, is something which I thoroughly agree with. I pride myself on my art which I believe stands for freedom of expression and sex-positivity. I believe that art which pushes the envelope and provokes discussion can help change the world for the better and I wish to be on the forefront of this dialogue. Recently, I was featured in Central Station’s featured work section with this image which was also selected for the exhibition:
All 11 individual pieces, from 4 sets of work, I submitted to the Alternative-Pride committee was selected for exhibition. The exhibition was hung on Friday 13th August and all members of Alternative-Pride and the Arts Centre’s own Executive Manager viewed it before opening. The evening went extremely well with a great turn out.
However, on the following Monday afternoon, I received a phone call from one of the committee members stating my work needed to be moved/removed following complaints.
The work in question included both sculptural/written word work and photographic work:
Both the committee member and I agreed over the phone that this was a complete outrage and we were not to comply with this request. It seemed to me, to be odd that the arts centre would not stand by work which was already cleared for exhibition and would turn their back on me as soon as anything negative was said. It became clearer, throughout my communications in the day, that the main issue was funding. The arts centre seemed to be afraid that if this type of work was visible to patrons and users of the centre then funding could be pulled.
Shortly after this, I received further communications from the Alternative-Pride committee which retracted any offer of support and was a complete U-turn on what was said previously.
I am being put in a really difficult position here because i don’t want to risk not having any space for exhibition next year, on the other hand i feel very personally upset about it … we can make enemies – The Arts Centre is closely connected with Aberdeen performing arts I.E Music Hall and Art Gallery and HMT … i am just thinking about other artists as well … I have to take into consideration the overall well-being of the event.
The committee (who earlier had stated that they were “honoured” to showcase my work said that I should just comply to the Arts Centre’s request to as not to “cause a fuss” and seemed to totally disregard any positive message that visibility of my art was trying to do. The committee told me that the Arts Centre had threatened to make it very difficult for Alternative-Pride to plan an event next year – in terms of both venue and funding. I understand the pressure that the Alternative-Pride committee felt at this point. However, personally, the most devastating part of this whole ordeal is the betrayal of the Alternative-Pride committee. The same people who proclaimed to be taking “Pride back to the political” and we all about fighting for freedom and liberation; were the same people who would turn their backs on me as soon as any monetary funding was threatened. When I tried to make my point, that compromising the location of my art is detrimental to the entire message, I was asked, “Can you do it just for the sake of the other artists please?”
I was hurt at the attempt of emotional blackmail and my argument was, and always will be that my refusing to compromise my artistic beliefs IS for the sake of other artists. I am taking a stand that I will not be pressured into contradicting the message of my work in any way and I firmly believe that by taking a stand, I am helping artists, both that I have exhibited with and artists to come.
That evening, a decision was reached that both myself, and the Alternative-Pride committee would meet at the Arts Centre to discuss with the Executive Manager, the future of my work in the exhibition. I know at this point that if I was going to be made to move my work to a less visible area, I would rather remove myself from the exhibition completely.
While all this was going on, my partner Stephanie Torrance set up a Facebook event “Free Love” to rally support and spread awareness to the censorship of my works. This “Free Love” image was used as the face of the event and supportive Facebook users started to change their profile picture to “Free Love” to show their support.
Several debates erupted online with regards to the actions of the Arts Centre, the most prolific being one with Terrance Higgins Trust employee Alan Parker. I was shocked that someone from a gay sexual health charity would try and attack me as much as he did – until I found out that Mr Parker was also on the board of the Aberdeen Arts Centre. I found these attacks both hurtful and unprofessional. Unfortunately I cannot quote Mr Parker as all subsequent comments have been removed.
Feminist and literary academic (and also staunch “Free Love” supporter Jennifer Bowes replied with this:
I suggest that the arts centre reads its Foucault and consider what happens when you try to de-sexualise children in a sexualised world. Then I suggest it plans better; maybe some educational information for parents and children, a sign, a quick warning so that there is choice…? Lastly, how professional is it that Mr. Parker is discussing this on Facebook? Maybe not a good idea if the thought of public opprobrium is not to your liking. Although I think the real point is that you’re inviting LBGT artists to present themselves as part of the main artistic narrative and then sending out completely mixed messages to both these children and their parents, whose issues may or may not just be with what their children see, and then moving them back onto the margins. Communication and education would probably be a better way to present things next year, and prevent as many uneducated, backlash responses to work that needs to be seen.
I had a feeling at this point, that “Free Love” was stirring up much more feeling than I had anticipated!
On Tuesday 16th, at 9.30am, my partner; a few supporters; the Alt-Pride committee and I met Executive Manager – Paula Gibson at the arts centre.
Paula and I talked professionally and calmly about the situation. As much as I don’t agree with the arts centre actions and views, I’m a reasonable person and understood where she was coming from and how her job is to protect and listen to the views of her patriots, as well as find a balance in pleasing visitors and exhibitors/performers. Apparently there were more than a handful of complaints from mothers concerned for the protection of their children due to the ‘offensive’ nature of my work. What was also apparent was that although Paula is just as strong in her convictions as I am, she did not know where I was coming from at all in my argument. She, like many others including Alan Parker and the rest of the AAC committee fail to understand the importance of art, in these respects. They also fail to follow through on support as well as sticking to the one story.
Deceptively, the go between prior to this meeting had crossed a lot of wires according to Paula, some of which I agree with – I was told my work was to be removed at one point, moved to less visible wall, it included most of my work, etc.
The final compromise offered was to have the sculptures moved to a less visible wall, out of sight and especially out with the eye level of children.
The outcome being my work was removed, as I failed to comply too the revised ‘compromise’ set by the arts centre committee, who among others chopped and changed their minds about how they wanted to handle the situation and what pieces were actually deemed ‘safe’. By moving work to a ‘less visible’ wall negates the entire message of my work. I will not compromise on my beliefs, nor will I admit my work is dangerous or offensive.
My argument is the only one that’s been consistently held here. I’m passionate about the arts and very dedicated to my work. Removing my work is only the start of what I’m prepared to stand for as I join the censorship crusade.
We are urging people to join out page over on Facebook to help combat against censorship in the arts and show your support for myself and other artists, such as Dani Marti who was censored in 2009 as part of the LGBT exhibition at GoMA.
If you can please also change your default photo to the free love image, although Facebook have been removing them and have this to say:
This level of censorship as we fight censorship is unacceptable. Surely we cannot take on the giant of Facebook and Google’s YouTube, but we will stand strong in solidarity.
Free Love <-- join the cause.