CCP body shots discourage school tours
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Photo courtesy of the
Center for Creative Photography
Some people can't take a little lip. This picture titled "Proximities" by Ann Mandelbaum is part of the current show at the Center for Creative Photography under fire for displaying nudity as art.
A close-up of a woman's lips may be an artistic statement to some, but concerned teachers canceled UA Center for Creative Photography tours for fear of offending parents.
At least two classes this month canceled tours of Mars Pathfinder images because the companion exhibit, "Ann Manndelbaum: Proximities" features human body parts, said education curator Cass Fey.
CCP Curator Trudy Wilner Stack said the images on display are legal to show in public, and warned of the message sexual-sensitivity sends to minors.
"And we're not talking about sexual imagery, we're talking about what we look like," she said. "We are creating an atmosphere in which a child can not think of its own body in any way except sexual."
The teachers canceled the tour after noticing school children would pass by Manndelbaum's unusual displays.
A class of sixth-graders that visited the Mars images earlier this month was missing about a half-dozen students because parents didn't want them exposed to the Manndelbaum exhibit, which ends Sunday.
After reviewing a display, teachers inform parents of its content and then gain parental approval via permission slips, she said.
"Now, it deals with non-objectionable parts of the human body," she said. "There are nipples in there, but they're male nipples."
The extreme photographic close-ups in the exhibit - such as a cheek leading up to a parted eyelid - resemble foreign landscapes, she said.
Fey added that teachers often cancel tours they believe will upset or offend parents, and a teacher once called off a tour because children would pass books with nudes on their covers displayed in the lobby.
This could be seen as a subtle form of censorship, she said, with kids not being allowed "to come into the museum and see any imagery of the human body without its clothes on."
Wilner Stack, who has served as an obscenity trial expert witness, added that she has not seen attempts by UA officials to censor art exhibits.
A local elementary school principal said yesterday that schools walk a "tight rope" in determining what is beneficial to students in terms of exposing them to art and culture, and what is offensive.
"As far as what's objectionable generally speaking, a school is best serving its community if it tries to reflect what the community finds objectionable," said Fort Lowell Elementary school principal Andrew Kent.
Kent, a self-described "raving liberal," said he opposes censorship on any grounds, but also has a responsibility to students and parents to respect their opinions of art versus obscenity.
Wilner Stack warned that attempts to censor visual arts are eroding free speech beyond the UA campus.
"Our First Amendment rights are in jeopardy," she said. "Once you say it's O.K.- once you start to make constant restrictions, you're opening the floodgates. And then, what's next?"
When Barnes and Nobel Booksellers was tried last February on charges of selling child pornography, Wilner Stack testified in defense the artistic legitimacy of the photographs involved.
The books in question, Jock Sturges' "Radiant Identities" and David Hamilton's "The Age of Innocence," both contain nude images of people under the legal age of 18.
Wilner Stack said Hamilton's photographs are perhaps the most difficult to understand in a fine art context, "but you could certainly use some basic criteria to encompass his work as well."
She said the areas of obscenity are about as clearly defined as the argument of what is and is not art.
"Obscenity is part of life, and art is a reflection of human experience," she said. "And there are people who comment on the presence of pornography in art life, in their art. And they may be critical of it but they still incorporate the images into their art."
One UA artist said he has noticed that objecting critical responses have had an impact on artists.
"I started to respond to the criticism by making raunchier stuff, but I found it wasn't what I wanted to do," he said. "I'm not going to respond to the critics just to piss them off."
Photographer Randall Longcore, who focuses on nudes set against rugged backdrops or under abstract lighting, said he has been called a "sexist pig" for his subject matter, but never censored.
In fact, his photographs were displayed prominently near the entrance of an East Coast gallery because the owner wanted to prove he didn't support censorship.
But, Longcore also said he has been frustrated by people prohibiting children from seeing his photographs at the public galleries and art displays.
"Small children are my most honest critics," he said. "They're not polluted by any sexual garbage, they just tell me if they like it."