Too rude to show?
Facebook's nudity ban often falls afoul of art groups
By Helen Stoilas and Clemens Bomsdorf. Museums, Issue 227, September 2011
Published online: 15 September 2011
Facebook has repeatedly disabled users’ accounts for posting images of Gustave Courbet’s The Origin of the World, 1866. The erotic work of art, in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, falls foul of the site’s prohibition of offensive materials. Facebook’s censorship has led to online campaigns encouraging users to change their profile pictures to show the work. This is, according to the French writer Luc Wouters, “so that Mark Zuckerberg [the company’s chief executive] comes across this masterpiece and can admire its unrelenting beauty as much as I do”.
Earlier this year, Facebook attracted criticism when it removed drawings posted on the profile of the New York Academy of Art. Steven Assael’s ink drawing Simone was deleted because it violated the site’s nudity ban. The academy spoke out on its blog, writing: “As an institution of higher learning with a long tradition of upholding the art world’s ‘traditional values and skills’, we find it difficult to allow Facebook to be the final arbiter—and online curator—of the artwork we share with the world.” Facebook apologised, and although it routinely removes naked photos of “actual” people, it allows the posting of drawings, paintings and sculptures of nudes.
The website’s monitors last year removed an image of a popular sculpture installed in the Nevada desert during the annual Burning Man festival.
A visitor posted an image on his profile of Bliss Dance, Marco Cochrane’s 40-foot-tall metal and mesh sculpture of a female dancer. Facebook apologised for removing the picture and encouraged the user to repost it.
The Danish artist Uwe Max Jensen has challenged Facebook by uploading works by artists including Anders Zorn. Even 100-year-old nude studies by the Swedish painter were deleted.
Community pages and groups set up on Facebook in protest include “Artists against Art Censorship” (403 members) and “Stop Censorship of Modern Art” (99 members).
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