A couple of months ago, another arts censorship happened in Melbourne. Hosier Lane, one of the Melbourne’s small laneways has been dressed up by a local street artist, Lushsux. On the brick wall, mural painting captivates pedestrians walking by the laneway. The murals convey female figures holding a cell-phone without wearing any clothes on. Nearly two floors high, the mural painting have been censored by the City Council due to an issue of nudity that the artwork illustrated.
According to an article—The Age, a spokesperson from the Council explained to their censorship by saying, “Hosier Lane is an iconic public space and we need to strike a balance to ensure that all members of our city can enjoy the public art on display”. Their censorship proceeded by repainting over the original work, without any permission of the artist. This is not only an infringement of arts autonomy but also destroying the artist’s creative product.
As we all know the City of Melbourne has been internationally renowned as its municipal supports to the arts and cultural sector. Especially, the City Council has greatly funded to public arts; see Public Art Framework (2014-17). The council commission a number of types of artworks including sculptures, and street art, such as murals and/or graffiti works. However, nowhere can find any clues about possibilities of arts censorship on the framework. Neither can find a statement about a clear definition of an artwork that “all members of the city can enjoy”. Instead, the document only shows their ambitions to support public arts. In this sense, can one say the city is actually supporting and promoting public arts and moreover, the arts and cultural sector in the city?
When looking at the online poll in the article, we can see that majority of voters disagree with the city’s decision. In addition, they actually tended to enjoy the original piece of art, regardless of its contents—which mean, by the way, the artwork communicates with the viewers with a language of beauty. A citizen said there is the greater likelihood to see or, appreciate female nipples in an artwork at the National Gallery of Victoria. In fact, that cannot be more accurate. Then, the censorship over nudity can be seen as a part of discrimination between so-called high-art and low-art. It also alludes that admitting the hierarchy in the arts when many scholars argue that an existence of hierarchy in the arts is absurd. It is funny when a teenager boy likely to see a pornography on the internet is much easier than an artwork is defined to be inappropriate to reasonable public”.
The issue can bring another social issue: sexism. Exposing nipples can be ‘an issue’ only when it is female. An anonymous online artist once posted his/her artwork that showed a picture of female body exposing its nipples but saying, “This is male. Please do not dare to censor”. A New York Magazine art critic, Jerry Saltz once responded to online censorship over nudity. In his words, people tend to “be naked the way all artists do”. What does it imply? Well, I guess it is a sense of voyeurism that we all have but in a beautiful/artistic way, and so that nudity in an artwork would better not be a prey for censorships.
I am not trying to say all kinds of arts censorship should be prohibited. Meanwhile in Seoul, there has been political arts censorship and so many of the art community has been fighting against it. However, I do understand some level of political arts censorship especially in Korea because the country is now politically divided, and is still in war—the Korean War never paused or stopped as many think. Such political debates can derive a huge social problem, and it can easily be on the government’s agenda. Under the politically sensitive circumstance, a part of censorship is understandable. At the same time I do not totally support the idea of censorships, but well, for art’s sake, I should say no to that because any kinds of censorship infringe arts autonomy.
However, an arts censorship over nudity can easily be absurd. When you appreciate an art, you do not sexually motivated. In this case, the places that an artwork may be exhibited might matter as well. When it is public spaces like Hosier Lane in the middle of the day or National Gallery of Victoria, people are less likely to misbehave.
Enough is enough.