Southern Illinois U. student artist compromises by covering up
Aug. 26, 2008
A day after ordering a graduate student's artwork be taken down, Southern Illinois University interim Chancellor Sam Goldman agreed Tuesday the work could be displayed if a cloth covered a photo of partially exposed buttocks.
The compromise did not placate the roughly 20 people who gathered outside University Museum to protest the removal of a banner publicizing Tracey Weiersmueller's "Feminality: A Portrait Series of Unruly Women."
The banner depicted women in a police lineup in costumes and poses that Weiersmueller said defy gender norms. One of the 27 subjects partially exposed her buttocks, which Goldman said could have negative effects on the public.
"I am not an art policeman, and I do not believe in any form of censoring, but the concern had to do with context," Goldman said. "We have families, children and all kinds of people walking on campus, so the question was, is it appropriate for them?"
The banner hung in front of the museum, which is located in Faner Hall, for five days before Goldman ordered its removal.
He said his office received complaints about the banner but would not say how many or from whom. Weiersmueller said he told her the complaints came from parents who were concerned after their children saw the banner.
She said she initially considered using a black halo on the buttocks to make a statement about censorship in media. Even with the cloth, the intent of her work comes through, she said.
"The two most important goals for me are to have the work shown and have an open dialogue about it," Weiersmueller said. "It was a compromise, but it was worth it for the sake of the image to be viewed."
Goldman said Weiersmueller volunteered to cover the offending area when she met with him Tuesday morning.
While the final compromise satisfied both the artist and administrator, one official from another university said she would have handled it differently.
Joan Stevens, dean of students at Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia, said the college's student handbook contains a detailed section on art censorship. The college encourages all students to express their art freely, she said.
"There was a nude body piece on exhibit in main gallery for the senior show," Stevens said. "Instead of telling the students they are censored, we tell the public there can be some things viewers find objectionable."
Nathaniel Steinbrink, museum exhibits designer, said he was told by the chancellor's office Monday to take the banner down. Steinbrink said the museum has given tours to grade school students before and often consulted teachers about any content they might want removed during the tour.
He said the museum has posted signs in the past to warn people about potentially offensive content, but this was the first time administrators have interfered.
"We knew we weren't putting up flowers out there," Steinbrink said. "But we discussed it before putting it up and decided it was tasteful enough and not majorly offensive."
Steinbrink also said he thought it would not have been a problem if it were displayed inside the museum, but protesters outside said that was not the point.
Nico Wood, a graduate student from Chicago studying performance, said it should not matter if the exhibit is outside or inside. Aspiring artists should not have to fight censorship anywhere, she said.
Wood said the choice to cover the piece furthers its message.
"The whole show is about persecution and women being forced into roles, so I find it ironic it is being censored for that very reason," Wood said. "This is a university campus, not a preschool. This shouldn't be an issue."