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If you’ve ever experienced the frustration of having your Facebook account disabled after posting a nude work of art, mark January 14 as your new favorite holiday: Facebook Nudity Day. The event, organized by art historian Kathy Schnapper and artists Stephen Pusey and Grace Graupe-Pillard, calls for Facebook users to post an artwork depicting the naked body to protest the social media website’s “continuing censorship of artists, curators and critics who have been censored for posting art and images that depict the nude human body.” The flooding of Facebook with photographs, paintings, drawings, and all other forms of art represents an action of solidarity against an absurd form of censorship that pretty much occurs on a daily basis.
“Don’t be intimidated by the censors,” Graupe-Pillard urged. “Perhaps [Facebook] will finally understand that nude images in ART are not immoral and we will be able to confront anonymous reporting.”
Users — largely artists — participating in Facebook Nudity Day have been publicly posting since this morning a diverse array of works, from Egon Schiele’s painting of himself masturbating and a phallic photograph by Robert Mapplethorpe to Japanese erotic prints and the accursed Courbet. Many of these posts are still live as of press time, but some users have already reported suspensions. An attempt to post Michelangelo’s David allegedly resulted in a user getting blocked, while Graupe-Pillard expressed exasperation over being reported for posting a painting of a fully frontal nude woman. Pusey told Hyperallergic that administrators also removed an image of Man Ray’s “Reclining Nude.”
By now, it’s rather well known that Facebook has a long and overly cautious tradition of censoring such works, tending to either remove the post it finds overly titillating or suspend the user responsible for a few days. French teacher Frédéric Durand-Baïssas’ ongoing legal battle with the social network exemplifies its problematic stance toward flesh-filled images. Durand-Baïssas is seeking damages after the site suspended him for a post showing Gustave Courbet’s “l’Origine du Monde” (1866). Artists using their profile pages to share their own works often have to be wary of being flagged. The nude art-loving critic Jerry Saltz felt Facebook’s wrath just yesterday. This very website, too, has had access to our Facebook page restricted because of a post of a photograph by Kate Durbin, found guilty due to an exposed butt, and, more recently, of a Japanese erotic woodblock print from 1814. Not even Edvard Eriksen’s bronze figure of “The Little Mermaid” is innocent enough to escape censorship.
The social media company does acknowledge that it is aware that nude images often fall under the category of art, and explains in its community standards that it allows “photographs of paintings, sculptures, and other art that depicts nude figures. Restrictions on the display of both nudity and sexual activity also apply to digitally created content unless the content is posted for educational, humorous, or satirical purposes.
“Our policies can sometimes be more blunt than we would like,” the guide notes, “and restrict content shared for legitimate purposes.”
The organizers of Facebook Nudity Day are registering any incidents of censorship by asking anyone whose posts get deleted or account gets blocked to send them an email that includes a description of the image. (Electronic Frontier Foundation also recently launched Online Censorship, a website to report similar instances of censorship.) Once gathered, that information may provide greater insight into Facebook’s tendency toward the arbitrary and senseless erasure of visual art.
“I value Facebook as a means of communicating with other artists, curators, critics, and writers, participating in discussions and learning of their exhibitions, publications, and events,” Pusey told Hyperallergic. “It is important to me that it is an environment in which we can freely exchange ideas and images without fear of censorship and having our
accounts summarily removed by the FB powers that be. If we are complacent about this we will lose our liberty and certainly, Facebook will lose the participation of its intellectual content providers.”