21 October 2013

an article on censorship in art

Artist is asked to censor two pieces of art due to complaints of their apparent ‘offensive nature’. No one wants to see words like ‘Rape’ or ‘Gay’ or wait, was it the paint?

By Sarah J Stanley

I’ve never had an exhibition of mine graffitied on, or cause notable controversy before, despite some of my work being fairly hard hitting, honest and bearing marks of the sarcastic-super-anti. Apparently ‘less than ten, but more than three’ complaints have been gathered about two pieces in an exhibition of my new work I opened on 27th September 2013 in my studio building in Glasgow’s Merchant City. This might be a good point at which to mention these two artworks happened to feature text. I think, but I’m baffled as to why, the problem lies there. 

I painted ‘church of rape’ as part of a diptych, it’s partner in crime being ‘things you have seen and heard have made you homo’ but that piece got away with it, unlike the unmentionable red based picture. The second culprit, titled ‘staring at this dot will de-gay you I promise’ was also in the firing line for censorship despite it’s crisp white and deep black aesthetic, something that, as an artist, I’m equally as concerned about as what the text happens to say.

church of rape, oil and acrylic on paper, A2, 2013

So, is it the word ‘rape’? or the word ‘church’? Surely ‘of’ isn’t bumping your grind? Let me just remind the public that I didn’t invent any of these words. I read them somewhere, at some age and lo and behold here they are together, in oil, on a red background. Is it the idea of a church full of rapists that fucks you up the bum, or accentuation of priesty kiddie fiddlers rightly or wrongly accused that makes you hot under the dog collar? See, you made that shit up all by yourself, which you should do, and now you’re offended at your own imagination of what those words ‘mean’. Without opening the age old debate of what art is and what artists do all day, it’s enough to mention that you don’t need to ‘get’ art, something that people are always banging on about not being able to do. You look at it and you take from it what you want. If you’re offended, I can’t take time away from the problems that are mine, as an artist, to bother about yours. If you’re not sure what artists do, and that’s the disquiet for you, ask.

If you are worried about your child seeing the word ‘rape’ might I remind you that this means they are old enough to read, so old enough to read the same word in the paper, to much less ambiguity. I’m not telling you how to raise a child or opening a vexed thread on ‘Mumsnet’, but if you don’t want them to see art, and you’re not ready to explain what they might see, don’t take them to an art space. Seems fucking obvious. If you just played the ‘kid card’ as a scapegoat for your own disgust, then remember, you’ve read it now so it’s in there, you can’t unsee it, so what more damage can it do to you? No, genuinely, I’m interested (so next time I can work some creepy-ass magic and fuck things up even more).

staring at this dot will de-gay you I promise, acrylic and floor paint on paper, A1, 2012

I don’t get why the absurd idea that staring at a dot to de-gay you is offensive. I may have made up the word ‘de-gay’, so I take responsibility for that. 

When I was about 15, I saw an ad in ‘The Enquirer’ (a shitty celeb-debasing, bullshit mongering mag) which urged you to stare at the blue dot, then you would be hypnotised and if you believed in it, things would look up for you. I grew up with all the Christian superstitions and demonisations you can imagine (and likely more), and so I didn’t look at it because it might give me a demon. Later I realised that there is a parallel between stuff as stupid as staring at a dot, and trying to de-gay gay people, as much as ‘The Enquirer’ is about as quality a life guide as Christianity. There’s a real sadness in the neediness of people feeling ill at ease with themselves, be it feeling like they have the ‘wrong’ sexuality, wrong lifestyle or needing to hypnotise themselves to feel better. 

I’ve met people who are gay and yet live a life of lying and trying to get fixed so as not to rock the noah’s ark of their massive Christianity. It’s cripplingly sad, and just for the record, I happen to be gay which means demon possessed/mentally ill/shouldn’t say it/should stay celibate/has daddy or mummy issues (you choose, delete as appropriate) so if you thought the piece was homophobic you are missing the point exceptionally. Go and do some research on Christtian de-gaying therapies - I hope you’re suitably appalled. I also was one of those people lying to myself and others for years, something I now realise is morally reprehensible and does no one any good. If you wonder why gay people have struggles it’s not because they are battling God’s perfect plan for them, it’s because it’s still extremely hard to be gay, and no one would ever choose it if they had the choice, so you can fuck off about that one all of Christendom.

The way I see it, everyone should be happy with this artwork. If you’re gay it’s bleeding obvious that it’s painted with at least 50% irony and spoof straight from the tube. It's not even that hard to 'get'. If you’re anti-gay then just get all those filthy gays to stare at the dot and we’re sorted, right? I don’t know what the fuss is about.

From top to bottom:
1. Censor attempt 1, ink on card, A2
2. Censor attempt 2, sticker on 'a'
3. Censored by member of staff dealing with complaints, ink


I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the pieces that caused most ruckus were not ones like ‘fuck you yes you’ or ‘pay your tithes you creepy fucks’ (both included in this exhibition). No, with discernible nouns like ‘rape’ and ‘gay’ I think that’s where I am justified to assert the following diatribe:

I love to paint text and I tend to boil down large things into small slogan like, ambiguous idiosyncrasies so as to, guess what, make you think; make art. It’s important to me that in my making I don’t employ the same hackneyed approaches I’ve seen a gazillion times already, and it also has to have a context within the wider scope of my work as a whole. 

Rape offends me. It has to be one of the most repugnant acts of control known to humankind. I attended church from birth under the custom and direction of my parents and it was all I knew by proxy. The most fucked up thing I have experienced in my life, outshining all other misadventure, is by far, modern, faith believing, charismatic, pentecostal, happy-clappy, singing, dancing, healing, money scrounging, recruitment hungry Christianity. Going from the status of any other piece of work, to something much more pertinent, ‘Church of rape’ has made me need to speak up about something I, otherwise, have no particular categorical reason to talk about more than anything else I notice around me. Take a look at my other work, I’d say it’s fairly sweeping, and the more I paint, the more I consider myself quite an old fashioned artist in terms of work ethic. This painting started life as a morsel I would have noted down in some sketchbook, as is commonplace to the birth of most of the text work I make. ‘Nice’ isn’t on my agenda. I’m always noting down little bits of text I think are somehow weird, thought provoking or satisfying for me to say, and I like to say things I haven’t yet heard. I grew up in a silenced atmosphere where everything of any slight anomaly was swept efficiently under the carpet. It feels good to say ‘church of rape’ to me. Maybe cathartic.


Rape happens in and outside of church, the difference is, in church it happens and no one talks about it because often it’s within marriage, or once something is forgiven by god, it’s also forgotten and can bear no consequence. From what I’ve heard, first hand, in church and from leaders, rape is not mentioned but essentially it’s fine to be a woman and be raped and controlled. In fact, let’s first make you think that ‘no’ means you’re a man hater or a ‘Jezabel’ (the Christian name for all women who don’t ‘submit to authority’, which of course, males are made for), because ‘I do’ means ‘yes’, invariably. 

This art piece is cutting into an unspoken misdemeanour which as far as I can see, all I’m doing is creating a relation between rape and church. What the hell were people wondering it meant? I have no idea but I’m pretty sure it’s something to do with defending the church because EVERYONE is a rapist in church, which is what I’m saying of course (not). I’m not trying to say there are more rapists in church than anywhere else, the problem I see is that the church definitely thinks there are less rapists in the church than everywhere else. Why? Because 1. they are most moral because you cannot gain morals in any other way, and 2. get married as young as possible then you can be a good Christian wife (the highest calling for women), and I quote from counsel I have overheard in my life, ‘lie back and think of england’ or ‘just let him do it’ or ‘eventually he will heal you’ and ‘it’s your duty’ or for good measure ‘even if you don’t feel it, just say I love you anyway. if you say it enough god will help you mean it. The same goes for sex’. So it’s not rape if she’s not screaming ‘noooo’ and it’s down some back alleyway, or I mean, she was dressed like a slut anyway, so she had it coming, and that’s why we tell our teenage girls to dress appropriately, or it’s their fault. It’s not rape if the woman is emotionally manipulated into it because she should feel bad, what an ungodly woman not wanting to have sex with her husband whom she should submit to. It’s not rape if you repent afterwards, to god. It’s not rape because you simply do not use that word unless it’s violent and between a slut and a dirty atheist/gay. bull. shit. 

Rape has to be talked about. The truth is, people still feel stigmatised for mentioning appalling behaviour in case we are associated with it. The cooties of rape should be attributed fully to the perpetrators, not the victims or onlookers. I blame patriarchy for a lot because I grew up in an environment where all the men (and women) took part in casual, or prescribed misogyny at home, and from the pulpit. Worse than that, they based all life decisions on strict gender roles where the only slight wiggle room to stray was to eventually ‘come back to the lord’ at some point. That way you had a story of shame and redemption to tell, a decent brownie badge to flaunt for attention in the Christian scheme. I happen to believe feminism and sexuality are intrinsically related with the thread of gender-understanding, and it’s no shock to me these two pieces have been singled out because like gender and sexuality, we’re still not willing to talk about it like adult humans, and progress.

Censor attempt 1, ink on card, A1

Rape is wrong. Trying to ‘fix’ someone’s sexuality is wrong. Censorship in art is wrong. In a time where people are still mouthing poorly thought out, impoverished views, I’m not apologising for a second for the work I made. If anything, it’s fuel to the fire and I hope at least, some dialogue is opened up and we start to talk about the offensive things we live with all around us. There is simply no good reason not to.

If you go to an art space, you should absolutely expect to see something that challenges you, hence the whole entire reason for art and artists. We’re trying to peacock our human ability to think, imagine and manipulate the plastic and cerebral quintessence in anything around us. Anything we fucking choose; normally things that affect us and interest us for whatever reason that is, and it's our job, like it or not. Censor one piece of art, you might as well ban the entire lot, which would be utterly stupid.


Please join me for this event to discuss, view and find out more

Wed 6th Nov 2013
Wasps Artists Studios, The Briggait, 141 Bridgegate, Glasgow, G1 5HZ

7pm-9pm same day

For a pdf copy of this article please email me from my website

To see more about this exhibition go HERE

To view a special artwork made in response to this censorship occurance go HERE at your own risk