Jun 112015

The presence of the nude in art: a tradition from prehistory to the present. The Venus of Willendorf (c. 25,000 bc); the Classical Laocoon and his Sons marble; Michelangelo’s David; Manet’s Le Dejeunner sur l’herbe – all instantly recognisable artwork featuring nude figures, male and female. Most higher art institutions offer life drawing classes and understand and encourage the use of the nude in contemporary art practice. But, alas, Bibo Keeley is studying ART AND DESIGN in Aberdeen IN THE ART AND DESIGN DEPARTMENT of North East Scotland College – where the female nipple will not be tolerated. By Suzanne Kelly

Bibo Keeley FREE AS A BIRD poster VERBOTEN by Rob Wallen Principal and Chief Executive of NESCOL A starlet’s nipple ‘accidentally’ spills out of their ball gown on the red carpet spells headline news in print and online. A singer flashes onstage; no one bats an eyeball.

A singer uses her sex to swing into the top twenty astride a wrecking ball, nude – some might call that clever marketing. Others might call it exploitation.

When visual artist Bibo Keeley chose to use the female chest to draw attention to sexual discrimination, hypocrisy, inequality, and sexual choice issues, initially her art college instructor was supportive.

When her work was put forward for the END-OF-YEAR exhibition, it was rejected, and she was told to ‘HANG something else’. No further explanation was given.

Was it hand gestures used by some of the models, whose faces were obscured by bird-like masks? Was it the nipples? Apparently the nipples proved to be too much, BUT EVEN a suggested alternative with nipples marked out by CENSOR STRIPS was suggested – BUT THIS OPTION WAS REJECTED ALSO.

Although the banning order came from HIGH UP IN THE COLLEGE, two women MEMBERS OF STAFF delivered the censorship decree to her, AND WHEN ASKED refused to back her right to show the female torso. Bibo says:

“I could not believe that anyone would consider banning this artwork because the work is very clearly designed to promote gender equality.

“However, somebody obviously decided that my artwork could be offensive to somebody somewhere. The same one-man-censorship-committee completely failed to see how offensive this ban is to me as an artist and to the participants who collaborated with me on the piece; and it is surely deeply offensive to every woman who believes in equal rights.

“I think banning artwork with such an empowering message shows a total lack of respect for the college’s own students and it also undermines the teaching staff in the Art and Design department who support their students’ creativity.”

The college operates under the Scottish Government’s ‘Curriculum For Excellence’ which aims to produce Successful Learners, Confident Individuals, Responsible Citizens and Effective Contributors. It does not aim to produce artists who avoid anything which upsets people who promote gender discrimination.

“I am an artist. I take inspiration from issues which are important to me. And I have no interest in presenting work just to please other people.”

The last time that I saw an attempt at banning the nude in an art context was in 1996. Edinburgh College of Art had a book of Robert Mapplethorpe male nudes.

Bibo Keeley FREE AS A BIRD censored version VERBOTEN by Rob Wallen NESCOL Principal and Chief ExecutiveJPGFor reasons known only to themselves, the police decided the book should be confiscated and banned.

The students banded together; the staff were supportive, and the clumsy attempt at supressing one of the great photographers of the human form was roundly and resolutely seen off.

If those responsible for arts education have taken on censorship roles in Aberdeen in defiance of free expression, and millennium-spanning  artistic tradition, especially in light of contemporary media practice, then are they fit guardians for arts education? Arguably not.

If Aberdeen didn’t get shortlisted as a city of culture candidate in the last round of the cultural beauty contest, perhaps it is these myopic, conservative, ill-informed, repressed, sexist and prudish sensibilities that are at least in part to blame.

On finding out the work is to be banned by the COLLEGE, several arts practitioners, education professionals, and venues have expressed support and solidarity.  A show of Bibo’s work locally is under discussion.   One acclaimed local figurative artist said of the decision:

“The bare naked truth Suzanne, is the powers that be, who took this decision are protecting their own bare arses. They don’t want to be associated with a possible Daily Mail style backlash. So much for free expression.”

More on the COLLEGE, the artist and the banned nipples will follow.

About Bibo Keeley:

 I am a HNC (Higher National Certificate) mature student of Art and Design at NESCOL, starting at Gray’s School of Art in September.

I am also an Artist in my own right:

In recent years I have contributed to numerous exhibitions, including Aberdeen Artists Society (2014), Paisley Art Institute 124th Annual Exhibition (2012), Fabric of the Land Aberdeen (2014), Perth Museum and Art Gallery (2013), and Clydebank Art Gallery & Museum (2014 + 2015).

This year (2015) I have also had a two-artists-show at Art Village in Glasgow as part of the Glasgow Southside Fringe festival, a solo exhibition at Macduff Town Hall as part of the COAST festival, and I had some of my artwork displayed (as part of a two-artists-show) at the Scottish Parliament at MSP Anne McTaggart’s launch of the organ-donation-opt-out-bill. 

My next two-artists-exhibition will be later this month (June 2015) at the Golden Jubilee National Hospital in Clydebank.

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  11 Responses to “North East Scotland College Censors Student’s Artwork”

  1. After the article was set, a college spokesperson said, “The End of Year Creative Art Show is the culmination of two years’ hard work. It’s an opportunity to show the best of students’ work to friends, family, future employers and the public. Space is limited and so curating decisions for the End of Year Show are made by the College’s Art & Design lecturing team to ensure that what is shown is right for this particular exhibition, and for our audience.

    “The student in this case has an excellent portfolio and staff were keen to display work that highlighted the student’s talent. However one piece did raise concerns that it was not appropriate in the context of the show. Nudity was not a factor in the decision to omit this piece. The images were considered by the curators of the show and were deemed inappropriate for the audience who will be attending due to the hand gestures depicted. Rather than the student censoring their work and compromising their artistic integrity, a decision was made to omit this piece from the exhibition. The student will be exhibiting other work from her portfolio.

    “Principal Rob Wallen is happy to discuss this decision with the student.”

  2. Bibo Keeley replied:
    “1. I was told that this was the sole decision by the Chief exec, I am not aware
    of a selection committee. the reason given was ‘not the nudity, but the way is presented’. Nobody could tell me what that meant. It was not clear whether the gestures were part of this.
    2. I am not showing work at all (by my own choice) now because I am not bowing to censureship
    3. I asked if I cld discuss this with rob wallen and was told by the teaching staff not to contact him
    4. It was me who offered to cover the nipples, not their suggestion
    5. It was me who offered to exchange the pics with the hand gestures for other images
    6. I was told that this piece is not going in whatever I do to it, and that the decision was final
    7. As for the space, every hnc student gets one exhib board,
    hnd students get more”

  3. On reading the college’s statement, I was interested to note that there are people in charge of deciding what is / is not right for their sensitive audience. An artist has since written to say: “Another slant on this Suzanne is the curating angle and molliecodling the viewing public and deciding on their behalf that these images, for whatever reason, are offensive and they are doing us a favour. They are speaking for the silent majority after all…. It’s a fine line between a curator and the thought police and it’s happening all over the place.” The college’s comment mentions ‘future employers’ – happily for me, the degree shows I was in were not designed to be employment-related exhibitions, but rather a chance for students to freely show their work. The art in degree shows I was in (New York Institute of Technology; Edinburgh College of Art) were not in any way subject to curation; I think my fellow students and I would have found that an unwanted intrusion and would not have accepted any such curation, especially without a chance for discussion; Bibo says she was told not to speak to the head of the school and was not given an explanation for the exclusion. It is good to see the school is willing to talk; but it may well be too late. As to the claim the nudity was not an issue, but the hand gestures were, is this to say that one form of censorship was not in place but another form of censorship was?

  4. Well, if it wasn’t art before, it is now 😉

  5. ‘The culmination of two years hard work’ where the student submits what they think are their best pieces and ‘someone’ at the college decides these pieces are ‘inappropriate’. I thought this was art? If ever a subject has the need of freedom of expression it’s art. What are you censoring – not nudity but hand gestures? If this was not terribly sad it would be utterly laughable.

    Which of the gestures were deemed so offensive that ‘friends, family, future employers and the public’ would be unable to cope? I have some relatives over eighty who might be deemed prudish by modern standards but not one who would be offended by a gesture in an exhibited piece of art. It’s art. They would feel this about some of the highly controversial exhibits in the past – even if disgusted and appalled they would still wish the exhibit to go ahead. And this is what is laughable. I find Bibo Keeley’s images provocative conceptually – Female nipples, the masks, the gestures – but it’s hardly pornographic or debasing – it’s actually quite refreshing. It’s clearly a well thought through piece of Art.

    I could say more on this – there seem to be a number of contradictory and confused statements by the College – this is the bit that is not laughable. It’s actually very troubling.

  6. I can’t see how this artwork could cause offence, especially given the message it puts across. This sort of censorship infringes the freedom that artists should have to express themselves.

  7. It’s a bit rubbish though…….

    • Hello John – usually when writing one sentence, you include the subject, not just a pronoun like ‘it’ so people understand what the subject of your sentence is. When you say ‘it’s a bit rubbish’ – I can only conclude you mean the college’s contradictory statements, or the decision to ban any artwork. If you mean the artwork is rubbish – well that’s a very harsh opinion to offer, and you offer no reason as to why. As someone with a BA and a MA (both honours) in Fine Art, I am sure you can’t mean the artwork is rubbish. The technical execution of the photographs is faultless, the composition of the photographs on the page is full of movement and interesting shapes (and negative shape). The bird’s head to anonymize the women is artful and is a strong part of the messages that the artist is powerfully putting across. If you have some specific comments to make as to whatever it is you think is rubbish, let’s have them.

  8. You can dress it up all you like suzanne but at the end of the day one’s opinion of what is good art and what is not is a very (indeed, one of the most) personal thing. I just happen to think it’s not much good, and didn’t warrant the publicity it received. That’s my opinion, you may have a different one. Surely you’re not trying to belittle my opinion just because you happen to think it has merit?

    • so – thank you for clarifying that it is the artwork that you say is ‘rubbish’ – not the censorship or the college’s behaviour. It’s a bit of a shift to move from rubbishing someone’s art to saying taste in art is subjective as you are doing. Perhaps you could have done a more kind thing, and commented ‘I don’t like this art’ or ‘I don’t think this is good art because….’ You sill give no reasons for rubbishing this woman’s artwork. No one is dressing anything up. Art is personal taste, but there are also means by which to talk about art – what do you think of the colours, composition, techniques, subject matter, message, etc. You are correct – I am not trying to belittle your opinion – now that I know it is not the censorship but the art that you declare to be ‘rubbish’ I just wish to understand why you decided to be so harsh and cruel, and what your criterion was for calling it ‘rubbish’. Your opinion will be most welcome by me if accompanied by some kind of reasonable critique – how much sympathy do you expect after rubbishing someone’s work without being able to justify what’s rubbish about it? I’ve given reasons why this work has merit for me. Awaiting patiently your reasoned, logical explanation of your opinion.

  9. In my opinion Bibo’s work here is not good and I agree it does not deserve the publicity it has received. I think it is fair for the college to choose that which they deem appropriate to show at the exhibition. If the student or others disagree then send work into the appropriate forum for display or go to such a venue. The work makes no great social comment,again and of course, in my opinion. Thanks for the opportunity to read this article and to give my opinion. I hope that the promotion of this work inspires other artists of greater quality to raise their work above and beyond the purulent and grab our attention with something that can truly make us think and act differently.

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