So, I was conducting a contest on my facebook fan page using the following portrait and text:
Win a beautiful giclee print of the portrait you see here!
Here is all you have to do to win!
1. Like my Page on Facebook
2. Like the Photo of the Portrait you see here
3. Share this contest on your page to receive a 2nd entry!
I will randomly choose a winner from either Canada or the USA to win a giclee print worth $150.00!
Saturday morning when I woke up I found a big warning on my facebook page, which informed me that the photograph of this painting had been removed for violating Facebook standards. So basically my entire contest was spoiled and I had lost all the names of those people who shared my artwork. This is nothing new, believe me.
I've had this painting and several other artworks removed repeatedly from Facebook, been given countless warnings and even had my account deleted at one point
, because my work was deemed obscene. I'm not alone in this. Right after I discovered the photo had been deleted I got a message from Amy Swagman of the Mandala Journey
who had had this photo of her artwork removed:
Another piece which was removed recently is this small portrait commission I did:
Believe it or not I did not actually think twice about posting it. I was proud of it, and very excited to share. It wasn't until someone suggested I was pushing the envelope a bit that I realized I might possibly lose my account again for once again posting a nude woman, nipples uncovered. Indeed- I received another warning and the image was deleted the next morning.
So, why don't we learn? Why doesn't Amy Swagman and Kate Hansen just stop posting nude artwork? Well... because we shouldn't have to. You may believe that Facebook's standards of use are applied fairly to everyone, but I argue that they are not. I've always refused to draw attention to other artists I know online who post nudes, because I do not wish their art to be removed, and I do not want them picked on or singled out.
I do not in any way wish people to report other artists who post nude artwork. I have however decided to share an image from a gallery I am fond of- EVOKE Contemporary Gallery out of Sante Fe New Mexico. EVOKE gallery was hosting a beautiful figurative show called "Decadence
," August 5th of 2011, and had posted some of the work on it's facebook page. I want to stress that in no way do I wish anyone to report this work. I love it, I love figurative art and I wish all figurative art had a home on facebook. I do not understand, however, why my work and Amy's work is removed repeatedly and why we are harassed when there is plenty of other nude artwork on facebook that does not receive the same treatment. Here is an example of a painting from the EVOKE page:
Christopher Rote- Armageddon, oil on canvas, 54 x 52
The difference is clear. This beautiful painting depicts a woman with guns, while ours depict women with babies/pregnancy. Violence is clearly acceptable while birth, breastfeeding and pregnancy are not.
I just had my profile photo removed today by Facebook. If there's any speculation that this removed photo might actually be obscene, please see below and judge for yourself.
This is a photo of me standing in front of my painting titled "Ailen and Jet Jazz." This was at the National Exhibition for the Canadian Institute of Portrait Artists
this Septemeber, in which I won "Most Innovative Portrait."
This is the note from Facebook that I received this morning:
If you have any questions or concerns, you can visit our FAQ page at http://www.facebook.com/help/?topic=wphotos
The Facebook Team
So, as you probably know... my account was deleted from Facebook
after about ten minutes of posting a breastfeeding photo. (It was re-instated the evening of October 1st.) September 30th at about 8:30 am I posted a status photo of myself breastfeeding my daughter, in solidarity with Emma Kwasnica
who had had her entire profile deleted after posting similar photos. At about 8:45 I was prompted to log in while commenting on my status photo, I attempted to log in, but was unable to. It said that my account had been disabled for posting content that violated facebook regulations. So what are the regulations they speak of? In the Chicago Tribune
company spokesperson Barry Schnitt stated: "We've made a visible areola the determining factor. It is a common standard."
Yet, if you look at a close up of the photo in question you will notice that there is no visable areola. So what exactly is their reason for photo deletion? Do you think I would have been removed if I were wearing a bathing suit which was showing the same amount of skin?
Another interesting aspect was the fact this was actually my FIRST snapshot posted which was not art related
. All the other posts, including the photograph by Catherine Opie
, were art related. The paintings which got removed back in April were all my own, and a facebook spokesperson told reporter Antonia Zerbisias of the Toronto Star
that it had been a "mistake," that my paintings had been "accidentally removed." If that were the case why was my entire account deleted within ten minutes of posting a breastfeeding photo, which, by their own standards, contained nothing obscene?
Here is another close-up. Once again no visable areola.
What is the common denominator in these images? You've got it- they are all breastfeeding images. It seems that Facebook, a massive powerful corporation, has determined that breastfeeding is obscene, and that children need to be protected from it. As a Canadian I know that my breastfeeding rights are protected under the Charter of Rights
. Breastfeeding is protected in most of the United States as well. Why then are we letting a for profit corperation determine our rights for us? Why are we letting a corporation decide what we can and cannot see? I think this problem is not only breastfeeding related.
I also question the areola rule. Why is it that visable areola is obscene? Does context have nothing to do with the rule? It seems a shame to say that women's nipples are "dirty" or obscene, when that's what we put into an innocent baby's mouth. What about them can possibly be obscene in that context? Below is breastfeeding featured in a Mr. Rogers clip. I guess no one thought to protect the children from the obscene areolas in this one.
My entire account was deleted from facebook this morning. If you know my history at all, you know that I've had photos removed numerous times from facebook, because of perceived indecency. My photos thus far were all art related, because I feel inspired by motherhood, nursing, and the human figure. I love breastfeeding art
; I think it's a wonderful female perspective on figurative art, and I continued posting it despite repeated warnings. You might also remember that I was featured by a few different media sources concerning these early removals of my paintings. Here is my interview with Sheila Coles on CBC, "The Story from Here",
(just go to "listen, part two.) Here is also the article written in the Toronto Star
on the subject of my facebook deletions.
This morning I heard more details on the fact that fellow breastfeeding advocate Emma Kwasnica
had her account deleted, and I felt so angry. I also felt ashamed- because, although I have posted many breastfeeding paintings, and although I am a huge advocate for breastfeeding, I had never had the courage to post a photo of myself breastfeeding. I've always been a little shy about my own body. This is a fact that may surprise you, since I've painted a few nude self portraits, and since I used to pose for life drawing classes, but I never felt very brave about posting breastfeeding photos of myself. This morning I felt ashamed. I looked at Emma's photo, and remembered ALL her smiling, gorgeous photos, remembered her humour and thoughtful advice... and I thought I have been SUCH a chicken. I felt ashamed for never posting a breastfeeding photo of myself.
SO, I posted this photo as my profile picture. I was just in the process of discussing it with some friends when I was asked to re-log in. I tried to and failed. My account was deleted, and with it many contacts and friends that I am now trying to get back in touch with. It happened so fast I couldn't believe it. I feel more upset than I thought I would. I feel like I've lost a limb. I've lost a lot of people with my facebook account, many people I knew from childhood and have NO idea how to get back in touch with. So friends- my first request (if you haven't already,) please get in touch with me through this webpage.
Thanks to talented artist Amy Swagman
there is a group on Facebook to get my account re-instated. Please join this group, "Bring Kate Hansen Back."
If you're familiar with art on facebook you might notice that there are many beautiful nude artworks by many many artists. Why are breastfeeding portraits being targeted for removal? I think there is some sexism involved in these removals. I believe that the female perspective is being denied and marginalized by these actions. The breastfeeding mother is a very specifically female perspective on the breast, since it doesn't involve men at all. Perhaps some hatered of breastfeeding women stems from the fact that (some) men feel visually excluded from the nursing dyad; the woman in question is not exposing her breasts for male pleasure, in fact she seems oblivious to the male gaze.
Another photo I uploaded which led to my recent deletion was this one. It's a piece by lesbian artist Catherine Opie
, titled "Self Portrait/Nursing." This photograph was almost immediately removed from my fansite and I received the usual letter from Facebook, saying it was "Hateful, Threatening and/or Obscene." In a recent article by popular the popular Blacktating
blog, Elita stated that the same photo was removed when a friend of hers posted it on her page. I venture to guess that more than nudity prompted this removal. This woman, a lesbian mother and not petite, is not the typical nude which facebook is willing to promote. She falls outside of the heterosexual male dominated paradigm that we're accustomed to seeing, and facebook is intolerant of that.
Finally I want to thank all the friends who have joined in the campaign against my removal. Amy Swagman has been incredibly helpful to me by creating and managing the group I mentioned. Krista Cornish Scott has been phoning me, talking to me and supporting me, so many mothers and women on twitter have expressed their outrage and support. My mother Molly Barber has been incredibly helpful, even looking after my kids today while I write this. I feel so loved and supported by all of you, and I'm incredibly grateful for that.
On August 11th I recieved a very bizarre warning from facebook, written in spanish for some reason:
Has cargado una foto que incumple nuestras Condiciones de uso, por lo que ha sido eliminada. En Facebook no están permitidas las fotos que atacan a un individuo o un colectivo, o bien que muestran desnudos, consumo de drogas, violenci a o cualquier otro elemento que incumple nuestras Condiciones de uso. El objetivo de estas políticas es garantizar que Facebook sea un entorno seguro y de confianza para todos los usuarios, incluidos los muchos menores de edad que lo usan.
Si tienes preguntas, visita la siguiente página de preguntas frecuentes: http://www.facebook.com/help/?topic=wphotos
The Facebook Team
It seems once again I have been targeted for censorship by Facebook. This time it wasn't breastfeeding artwork though, it was a series of nudes I did for my BFA graduating show in 2001.
The Facebook Team
This one was called "Ophelia," and it was a part of a series I called "Liebestod," (literally love-death,) on love and loss. The subject was a friend of mine who had lost a baby due to prematurity. The portrait was about grief, loss and longing. It referenced Sir John Everett Millais' painting of Ophelia, 1852.
Initially I was hesitant about posting these paintings, because I had had some previous problems with Facebook censorship. I had three breastfeeding mother and child portraits removed from Facebook a total of five times, and a warning sent to me. Read more on that here
. I didn't feel it was a good time to rock the boat. However after three months with no difficulty I thought I may as well post my grad show artwork. They are some of my best work, and I hate the idea of hiding them just because they might offend a minority of people.
I wasn't that surprised when I got my notification and the art was removed. I thought: "After all these are full nudes, not breastfeeding mothers, and I suppose they could be misinterpreted." However these nude paintings were still artwork, not pornography, and I think that distinction is important to maintain.
What I find disturbing about facebook's censorship in general is that they have a lot of power over our lives. I know they are a privately owned site, but it frightens me that they have become the new social medium- on par with the town square or Zocalo, and they are anonymously both aware and in charge of the information we can share. You can't discuss any photo removal with them, they refuse to discuss it. Art that might be fine in any gallery is removed for example, and many people don't even QUESTION it's removal. I find that disturbing too. I am also concerned about the anonymous method of reporting photos. The person who reports a photo takes absolutely no responsibility or consequences for their actions. I think this results in a kind of "dumbing- down" of our culture in general.
This one is called "Loosing Lily 2," and it's also about losing a baby after childbirth. It was also removed on August 11th.
The dumbing down process involves removing any material deemed "offensive," a rather obscure definition which seems to mean anything that doesn't fit facebook's standards of mainstream, bland culture. Material such as women breastfeeding, women giving birth, and gay sexuality are removed, because they do not follow the heterosexual/male culture which we're accustomed to seeing. Big bosoms in bikinis= fine, woman giving birth = offensive seems to be the formula. What bothers me about this formula is that we have become so accustomed to seeing everything through this hetero-male lens that we are pretty ready to accept these censorships as "just the way things are," really without questioning their motives.
Artist Leif Harmsen
says so eloquantly: "Facebook is worse than useless to you because facebook.com is Facebook's website, not yours. It is not 'your' profile, it is Facebook's profile about you. Those are not your friends, they are at best a Facebook sanitized version of your friends.
It took centuries of political evolution to reduce this kind of manipulative abuse from the state - why go backwards to a medieval social structure with you at the bottom? You wouldn't holiday in North Korea, so why would you spend time on Facebook?!"
(Read my full interview with him here
My work was deleted without any idea of the background or meaning behind the work. My voice was silenced simply because it didn't fit a mainstream of what is acceptable. Perhaps Leif does have a point- Facebook is a powerful social engine, shallow and vaccuous to the extreme, yet it has a great deal of control over our lives and what information we receive. Perhaps it's time to take back some of that control.
On August 16th I received another notice from facebook. They had removed a portrait I had done of my nude baby boy in the bathtub... obscene? REALLY?? You decide.
Artist Leif Harmsen is a painter and a director of short films. He attended the University of Toronto, graduated from Concordia University with art and art history honours, with a minor in creative writing, and achieved an MA in computer applications for art and art history at Birkbeck College, University of London, UK.
The following is a short interview with him on the subject of art censorship and his movement and educational campaign "Shut Your Facebook."
Kate- Please describe your artwork.
Leif- Interdisciplinary, project based, occasionally collaborative and performative. Recently working on a series of large oil paintingsthat are as much abstract colour field as they are figurative, as digital as they are oil paint on canvas, as much photographs as they are paintings, and as sexual as they are academic. You'd have to see to understand how that's all possible.
Kate- Describe the particular piece that precipitated the censorship.
Leif- I'm not sure. Facebook said they removed a picture, (or was it pictures?) but didn't say why or which one(s), and warned me that if I did whatever I did again they would remove my account or some such threat. But I could not comply, because they refused to discuss anything. They referred to "terms" that were impossibly vague. I think the most specific word they used was "explicit" which means nothing at all on it's own, or anything you imagine you want it to mean. So I could not speculate. To be on the safe side I would have to remove everything, in which case why bother with Facebook at all? Besides, I have my own website and my own contact list of people with their actual email addresses, so Facebook was just in the way and sticking it's nose in where it wasn't welcome anyway.
Kate- What was the end result? Did you get an apology? Has it affected your artwork in any way? Did you feel a lot of public support?
Leif- No. Most people didn't care and while it didn't change what artwork I'm doing, it added slightly to it's meaning given that it is already in part about censorship and personal digital communication. Others agreed with me but still felt they were getting something from Facebook, what I'm not sure. I ask, and never get a satisfactory answer. A few said, shit, you're right, and shut Facebook for good too. I am sure everyone who subscribes to Facebook would succeed better if they got their own website and used email and the telephone instead. Facebook is an endless mess. Other means of communication are far more purposeful and discreet, and ultimately more efficient and not particularly prone to censorship, coercion, abuse, identity theft and breaches of privacy. Facebook.com really is just one website, and it belongs to just one company, and that company is not your friend.
To expect an apology from Facebook is as laughable as it would be useless. Facebook can apologise all it likes but it's not going to give you the control and responsibility that you would have with your own domain name, and require to have any dignity online. Nor will Facebook stop abusing it's punters for profit. It's not your Facebook profile, it's Facebook's profile about you. They control it, so it isn't really "censorship" because facebook.com is entirely their website, not yours. Just like harmsen.net is my website, and is under my control alone. I might let you post something on my website, but that's my perogative and it would be my perogative if I were to remove it too. You control nothing on Facebook, not even your own identity. That is not a matter of opinion, it's a matter of fact. Facebook cheapens you.
Kate- Tell me more about your campaign "Shut Your Facebook."
Leif- Perogative and control are misplaced on Facebook and the like. In as much as our culture is established on Facebook, Facebook owns and controls it. You wouldn't holiday in North Korea, so why waste time on Facebook? "Shut Your Facebook" is the tip of the iceburg of a larger educational campaign to inform people of why there's a serious problem regarding ownership with Facebook and the like, so that they can learn to use the internet sensibly and protect their own interests, (such as freedom of expression,) same as they might with other forms of property like housing.
Ask yourself whose name it is in, be it a ballot, a bank account, a degree, a property or an internet domain. If it is on facebook.com, it is in Facebook's name. The fact that your name appears on a page, as though it were something that belonged to you, is a fraud. The fact that Facebook uses language such as "your profile" when it is not at all yours, is fraudulent too. They might say it comes down to semantics; fraud always does. The solution? Don't buy into it. Shut your Facebook.
The following art piece by artist Amy Jenkins
was censored from a New York art gallery in May 2004.
"The Audrey Samsara" Amy Jenkins, 2004
I was looking up "breastfeeding Artwork" online one evening when I found this photograph. I looked up her website right away, hoping to find out more about the "Audrey Samsara," which is the title of the artwork. The actual piece is a video
of her baby Audrey nursing, falling asleep, waking to breastfeed and fall asleep again. It's a meditative and soothing loop, much like the Buddhist cycle of life and death for which it was named. I also noticed from the website that this artwork had been censored from an exhibition in New York, and I decided to contact the artist.
I spoke to Amy Jenkins on the subject and she told me she was surprised by the reaction to her artwork. The artist and mother had been asked to do a piece for designer Salvatore Ferragamo
to display in their 5th Avenue art gallery. She was asked to use an item from the store as inspiration, and was granted full artistic license. Amy fell in love with a little pair of red shoes named "The Audrey," and felt that it was meant to be, since her own eighteen month old baby girl was also named Audrey.
Amy earned her MFA at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, but also spent some time in Florance Italy, where she completed a certificate in Fine Arts. She felt a kind of affinity for the italian background of the famous shoe designer, and agreed to create a piece for the art gallery upstairs. Her work is mostly photography and video installation; meditative and timeless loops involving themes of family, childbearing, relationships and discord. They are often both serene and disturbing; surreal yet familiar.
The video she created for them was a video of her daughter wearing the red shoes, nursed by a dark figure, so that the baby appears almost to float in mid air. Amy told me that this peice was especially meaningful to her; she called it a "tender record" of her breastfeeding experience, and was shocked by the reaction it incurred. The image evokes the timeless archetype of the Madonna and Child in a modern context. It also reflects the classical religious theme of the "Pieta," (a depiction of the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Christ.)
La Pieta- Michaelangelo, 1499
A few hours before the scheduled opening of the show in May 2004, Amy was informed that her work had been removed. An executive found the artwork to be "distasteful" and refused to exhibit it as planned. Amy and her family bravely attended the gallery opening, hoping to speak to someone and resolve the issue, but no one would speak to her about it. They would not explain why it was considered "distasteful," and nothing was done by way of apology. Amy herself wonders if it has something to do with the fashion aesthetic of the designer store- the fact that the breasts depicted in her work were functional rather than visual. She wonders if people are so used to seeing breasts used for marketing purposes and that the sight of breastfeeding makes people uneasy.
I personally also wonder if we as a society are unused to seeing the female nude from a female perspective. Breastfeeding is very much a feminine experience of the female body; it doesn't involve men or sex, and can be very personal, subjective and intimate. I would venture to guess that we as a society are unused to seeing the female nude from a female point of view; with a female gaze, if you will. The female nude as the subject rather than an object is unfamiliar to us visually, and invokes discomfort in the viewer. Perhaps the public, men and women alike, are used to seeing the female breast as an object of desire, and the breast from the inward, personal perspective of the woman doing the breastfeeding is unusual to us.
Whatever the reason the reaction was the same. The artist was excluded, her point of view was rejected. The Audrey Samsara, a beautiful timeless piece, was denied to the public. As Amy Jenkins said- the flatscreen monitor which was meant to show her work was like "a black hole" in the gallery during the opening. She went on to have several articles published on her story, she had plenty of public support and found many other suitable venues to share The Audrey Samsara. I think ultimately it shows that her work is effective. It obviously created a reaction and made people think and talk about an issue that deserves attention. What started as a simple, beautiful moment between mother and daughter became something which shocked and also moved and inspired people. What more can we ask from an artist than that?
Yesterday afternoon I received an interesting tweet from @KimKardashian "EWW Im at lunch,the woman at the table next 2 me is breast feeding her baby w no coverup then puts baby on the table and changes her diaper"
Apparently later she did a follow up tweet saying: "My sister breastfeeds! It's a natural beautiful thing, there's nothing wrong w it, but she covers herself, not w her boobs exposed." Thank you for the lesson in modesty, dear Kim. I will be sure to cover myself whenever nursing in public from now on.
First of all the irony of the statement is obvious- she posed for Playboy! How could she be so prudish about a little bit of boob exposed in the act of nursing! It was funny. And also very very sad.
I find it disturbing how vicious women can be to one another. When I had an article published in the Toronto Star on the subject of the censorship of my art from Facebook http://www.thestar.com/living/article/794323--are-these-obscene?bn=1
some of the nastiest attacks in the reader comments were from other women; the worst being the following statement: "As a mother of 2, trust me, others are not interested in seeing your bloated breasts from pregnancy. And another newsflash, they ain't gonna last!"
It's unfortunate for Kim that she made a statement like she did, because she is the classic Glass House that shouldn't throw stones. It would be so easy to attack her, point out her hypocricy, insult her figure... that is partly why I feel sad about her comments. Let's instead take a step back and see her as a product of her society. This is precisely what is wrong with society's view of breasts today. Women are taught to see themselves as sexual objects first, with breastfeeding being a secondary function. There is a de-humanizing quality to this, as women are detached from their own biology, their relationships to others, their needs and desires, and put in a realm of pure asthetics. Women are not judged for the content of their character, but merely for the quality of their skin.
It's also unfortunate for the many many young women who follow her tweets. The breastfeeding statistics for young women are depressing already- something like 20% -30% of young women choose to breastfeed. Imagine how many more might be affected by this post: "EWWW! ...breastfeeding!" and choose not to give their babies the best start to life. The diservice this statement has made to the breastfeeding advocacy movement is staggering.