Two art students in their final year at the John Curtin College of the Arts in Perth, Western Australia, got an unexpected lesson in institutional politics after their paintings were censored in a student exhibition. The mother of one of the teenage artists, Vicky Manley, says the school removed her daughter’s painting because the administration believes it depicts a fellow student nude and could incite pedophilic behavior in viewers, according to Western Australia Today. Another student was told that her artwork, which depicts two women kissing, would be turned to face the gallery wall at times when young children might see the work.
“My daughter accessed several images, as well as her imagination to create the artwork … It is not an actual portrait of the young girl that the principal is referring to. If it were then it would have been titled as such,” Manley told WAT.
The school’s administration claims that its decision to remove the work by Manley’s daughter from the forthcoming student exhibition, slated to run November 4–7, has nothing to do with nudity per se, but specifically the painting’s apparent portrayal of another student, nude, in a figurative style that makes her instantly recognizable. The exact nature of the other targeted artwork’s offense is unclear, but according to a Change.org petition calling for the works to be reinstated, “both artworks depicted some form of nudity and alluded to female sexuality.”
“This is certainly not an issue of art censorship, we simply cannot display images of a recognizable person who is naked and underage,” the school’s principal, Mitchell Mackay, told the Guardian Australia. “Both of these paintings are outstanding pieces of work by our students, but in both cases there are particular circumstances we have had to consider to ensure they do not put children at risk.”
The second work will be turned to face the gallery wall when the Curtin Theatre — in whose foyer the exhibition is being held — hosts performances of the Disney musicals The Little Mermaid and Pinocchio. Mackay told WAT that the decision to censor his students’ work was made “purely with the protection of children in mind.”
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