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Queer Artist Claims Bal Harbour Officials Censored His Photography

Pacifico Silano has accused the mayor and staff of a South Florida beach town of censoring his queer-themed exhibition and canceled his show in protest.

Image from Pacifico Silano’s After Silence series (all images courtesy the artist)

For six months, Pacifico Silano tirelessly prepared for his outdoor exhibition in the Floridian coastal village of Bal Harbour (located just 15 miles outside Miami) before ultimately deciding to cancel the show after fielding requests from municipal officials to censor its queer content. Attempts to stifle the exhibition’s LGBTQ matter had already compelled Claire Breukel to resign in protest from her position as curator of the village’s public art program, “Unscripted, Bal Harbour.”

The Andy Warhol Museum‘s chief curator, José Diaz, also ended his involvement over similar concerns. He was already working on a 2020 exhibition including Silano’s work in Pittsburgh when the artist requested his help selecting final images for the beachfront show. “It is with disappointment that the artist Pacifico Silano and I have withdrawn from the Bal Harbour beach path art project ‘After Silence,’” Diaz told Hyperallergic. “For the project to be approved, censorship would be required, and neither Pacifico nor I believe the revised project would be representative of contemporary queer issues.”

Image from Pacifico Silano’s After Silence series

After many rounds of negotiations with public officials about the content of his exhibition, Silano began to worry that his artistic integrity would be compromised if the show went forward.

Over the last two months, the artist says that he and Diaz finalized edits for the exhibition twice. The initial edit was rejected by staff working on the exhibition who asked the artist to remove four images that were deemed too suggestive. “I was perturbed,” Silano admitted, “but had other images that I could replace them with so I obliged.”

Image from Pacifico Silano’s After Silence series

The revisions were finalized and sent to the printer at the beginning of October. At this point, Silano decided to book his Miami flight and began planning accommodations with Diaz and Breukel. They were also working on details for a public talk set for November 4.

Everything was going smoothly until Silano received a distressing call from Diaz. The city had apparently edited their press release to delete all instances of the word “queer,” and the artist says municipal staff wanted to avoid mention of of gay adult magazines as the artist’s source materials. Bal Harbour also edited Diaz’s curatorial statement. Silano also claims that the mayor and his staff wanted to censor two additional images in his exhibition, replacing them with blank panels. A later suggestion was to fill those blank panels with promotional signs for Bal Harbour instead. (A spokesperson for the village denies this.)

Image from Pacifico Silano’s After Silence series

Once Breukel announced her resignation, Silano decided enough was enough. “After all of this, I just couldn’t see a path forward. I chose not to compromise myself as a person and an artist and cancelled the show.”

Silano has exhibited work across the US and internationally, but has never experienced such censorship before. He describes himself as a lens-based artist whose work explores the print culture and lost histories of the LGTBQ community. His work is a subtle form of activism that desires to visualize a once-closeted population. Accordingly, the work in “After Silence” is far from outrageous or salacious — unless you consider a man’s naked backside salacious. And without knowing the origin of these images, it’s hard to believe that the average passerby would know that Silano’s work originates from a gay, adult magazine.

Silano told Hyperallergic via email:

My work is about the history of images and how over time their meanings shift and change. Bal Harbour wanted to completely censor and remove the context of my work for a more family-friendly exhibition, reducing me to a collage artist who makes work with magazines. Sadly, Miami-Dade County has the highest rate of new HIV diagnoses in the United States. This show could have been an opportunity to meaningfully engage with this issue.

Mayor Gabriel Groisman of Bal Harbour responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment with the following statement:

We objected to several images by Silano which included partial nudity. We run an extensive taxpayer-funded art programme. We decided that those pictures should not go up on our public beach path where people of all ages visit. Instead of working with us, the organisers decided to pull the show. It’s unfair and disingenuous for anyone to attribute this to any sort of discrimination or art censorship. Our municipality has a long-standing relationship with the art world and we endeavor to continue to do so in the future.

Image from Pacifico Silano’s After Silence series
Image from Pacifico Silano’s After Silence series
Image from Pacifico Silano’s After Silence series
Image from Pacifico Silano’s After Silence series
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