”For artists to create compelling work it is vital that they do not fear censorship,” Carrie Eldridge founder of ATO Gallery tells me over WhatsApp shortly after New York-based painter Miroslava Romanova’s works were pulled from an exhibition at the National Hotel in Miami. According to co-organizer FlyNFTs, Nelly’s List, a global event company also co-organizing the event, decided to exclude the pieces as they depicted female nudes and might offend a male religious leader in attendance. Eldridge who represents Romanova was informed about the decision to exclude the paintings the evening before the show slated to open. Both FlyNFTs and Nelly’s List were aware Romanova’s subject matter when they confirmed her participation.
“This isn’t about just me, or this situation,” says Romanova, placing this occurrence into a larger and important context: “it’s about the female body being censored, especially in a painted form. There shouldn’t be any forms of censorship. Women should be able to control the narrative surrounding their own bodies. Historically, the female nude has been a major subject, yet the majority of nudes are painted by men.” Earlier this year, Cultbytes published a story on censorship on Instagram and Facebook after Instagram released a feature negatively affecting artists by limiting content on the Explore page. The social media platforms censor paintings that depict the nude body. As an example, Betty Tompkins who is known for her paintings of genitalia is often a victim of censorship, both off and online.
Romanova’s inquiry into the female body is anchored within her interest in medical textbooks and anatomy. Siding with the artist, art critic Kurt Mcvey comments: “Romanova deftly navigates the subject matter with a beautiful balance of figuration and abstraction.” Rather than objectifying, Romanova’s work has “a consistent theme of female empowerment and ownership over one’s own body it has nothing to do with sex or the objectification of women. It has nothing to do with seeking approval from men as far as being considered desirable or not. Yet she is being censored and sexualized and her work is being taken out of context,” says Eldridge.
Art and culture have long been popular targets for censorship and experiencing censorship is often alienting and distressing. But, exercising collective pressure can reverse decisions and there are organizations that can help. Formed in 1973, The National Coalition Against Censorship provide direct intervention for people and groups facing censorship.
Seeing our bodies, imagined and real, carves out space to navigate, re-asses, and redefine gender, body image, and selfhood. Gatekeepers – social media platforms, exhibition organizers, and institutions – must understand that these conversations should not be limited lightly.
Nelly’s List, FlyNFTs, nor the religious leader have responded to our requests for commentary.
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Anna Mikaela Ekstrand is editor-in-chief and founder of Cultbytes. She mediates art through writing, curating, and lecturing. Her latest books are Assuming Asymmetries: Conversations on Curating Public Art Projects of the 1980s and 1990s and Curating Beyond the Mainstream. Send your inquiries, tips, and pitches to firstname.lastname@example.org.