Tuesday, May 1, 2007 , Updated 5:17 p.m., May 3, 2007
UPDATED: Dallas artist’s breast-cancer portrait banned from Deep Ellum show
Which begs the question, when will boobs become no big deal?
Courtesy of www.daddyrhon.com
For quite some time now, Deep Ellum's Continental Gin has hosted an artists' collective for their regular spring show, which allows the artists who rent one of the building's thirty studios a place to showcase their various works.
But last weekend, things took a sour turn, as local Dallas painter and photographer Rhon Drinkwater (who rents a studio at the CG) says that her painting of a breast cancer survivor was unfairly removed from a group show.
How come? Well, at first you'd think it's because the portrait is nude, and people always make a fuss when boobies are involved, regardless if the work is designed to be erotic.
As it turns out, several other nude images were allowed into the show, leading Rhon, an openly gay artist, to suspect that discrimination is afoot.
"But the painting is not about sex," Rhon writes. "It is not about breasts. It is about breast cancer."
Because there's nothing better than hearing from the horse's mouth, the following is Rhon's blog entry on the subject, posted last week:
My portrait of a breast cancer survivor was banned and removed from the spring show at the artist collective where my wife and I rent a studio. I was told there was a vote amongst several artists and the painting was deemed “not family friendly”. Of the many other nudes in the show, only my work was censored.
As you can see, this is not erotica. This is a literal figure study of an older woman who has had a mastectomy. I was holding that woman’s hand the day she was told she had cancer. This *is* a family disease, and our mothers, lovers, aunts and sisters are dying in an epidemic.
Why was this piece considered morally offensive? Because the model is older? Because she is disfigured by disease? Or are there implied subtexts to this piece simply because I am an obvious dyke?
A very dear older gay gentleman who has rented art space at the Continental Gin Building for over 20 years told me something similar happened to him once. He said his work (which is abstract) was labeled “too phallic” and an entire show was canceled on a college campus. When he asked the school official who censored his show if he had actually seen the art yet, the man said he didn’t need to. Anyone hearing this story would recognize queer prejudice. However, when I said it was difficult for me not to take this particular incident personally since there is nothing in the portrait itself that could be called indecent, he guffawed at the idea that homophobia could have played a role.
The lady who has taken it upon herself to organize our group came up to my studio and tried to explain to me why there are regulations to dictate what art is morally appropriate to publicly represent our collective space. She said “The reason we have those rules about no nudity in the public galleries is because”, her voice dropped to a whisper, “there used to be a BDSM artist in the building and his stuff was really…you know… beyond suggestive.”
I said, “Do you realize your assumption only incenses me further? I am queer and have been out for 25 years. By most people’s standards, I am a biggo pervert! I am reading a perverted book!” I flapped Feinberg’s Drag King Dreams at her. “My friends are all perverts. I have had my face beat in for it.”
“Oh! No, no. Your lifestyle has nothing to do with it!”
I tired to explain, “That is like telling a racist joke and then leaning over to my wife Christine and saying, “I am not talking about Mexicans. I am talking about ‘messkins’”.
I pointed to one of my drawings of two curvy, fat, sweet potatoes laying side by side on a crumpled silk sheet. They appear to be spooning and gazing at one another. “This drawing of sweet potatoes is about sex.” I jabbed my finger toward B’s portrait. “That painting is not about sex. It is not about breasts. It is about breast cancer.”
The art opening was kinda rough, ya’ll. I put the banned painting in a prominent place in my private studio with a sign explaining that it was censored from the public show and asked people to share their views in a notebook. Some people shared my outrage. (People love to be outraged.) Some shared moving stories about how this disease has affected their lives. Of course, I will challenge these stupid rules, but I mostly felt sad at the loss of community. I have been so excited to connect with other artists. I forget I live in a godamned bubble, this safe place I have made for myself where I am surrounded by open-minded people. Ah, well. In the “real” world, I am always the damned outsider!
UPDATED: Rhon writes on her blog that the other artists at the Continental Gin Building decided by unanimous vote that their collective would not censor art amongst their fellow members in the future.
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