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 can't believe it's been over a year since I first started having trouble with Facebook
. I had several artworks removed from facebook repeatedly, without explanation of any kind, besides the standard form letter. If you wish to listen to my interview with Sheila Coles on The Story From Here, just listen to part two of this link.
( It's at about 19:40.) Since then I've had the extraordinary experience of meeting some of the most amazing, interesting people. I was lucky enough to get in touch with artists Gemma Turnbull, Leif Harmsen
and Amy Jenkins
, all of whom had had some issues with art censorship themselves, and had some beautiful insights on the matter. I was also lucky enough to meet with some amazing lactivists, such as Jessica of the Leaky Boob
. What seemed at first a strange and singular experience with a social network became indicative of a larger social issue- that society takes with breastfeeding and with the human body in general.
I wanted to write this blog post partly to acknowledge that a year had passed, but also as a big huge thank you to all my friends, family and supporters. I can actually chalk up the whole experience as a good one, because I met so many wonderful people, and made some life-long friendships along the way. I feel like I've grown up ten years in this past year. Thank you
so much for your support.
If you're in my area, (Courtenay BC.) and you're interested in seeing the Madonna and Child Project in full, please stop by the Muir Gallery June 3rd for the opening reception. I will be there 7:00- 9:00pm, and the show will be on display until the 25th of June.
When the facebook page Earthy Motherhood was deleted recently it was among about five others that I heard about. The number of women deleted; midwives, doulas, artists and mothers, was overwhelming to me. It seemed that Facebook was indeed cleaning house, removing photos of childbirth and breastfeeding with abandon. Pages cropped up in support, among them Bring Back Earthy Motherhood
, Bring Back Denver Doula
and Bring Back Holly Marie Stewart
. I started feeling rather hopeless about the whole thing, how many pages would continue going down, how many times would we have to rally ourselves to get them back, involve the media. Every time Facebook tells us it's an accident, that they didn't mean to delete these pages, these photos.
Maybe it IS an accident. Most of us know Facebook operated in such a way that requires people to report photographs and other material before they are deleted. I know for certain someone reported my own images
before they were removed. When we point out that our breastfeeding images are censored before sexualized images for example this is true.
I think most of us are aware though that this has less to do with Facebook actually seeking out breastfeeding images and more to do with the public's
discomfort with breastfeeding. Regardless of whether it's an accident or not and whether or not the reinstate our accounts... the fact remains that the way Facebook operates is flawed, and it is damaging women's systems of support. Just the fact that someone can report something anonymously means that the perpetrator faces no consequences at all
for their actions.
So why don't we go somewhere else to hold support groups for women? Because we shouldn't have to. As Jessica of The Leaky Boob states in her article The Problem Continues:
"Having an active presence on Facebook does something else: normalize breastfeeding. Shunning breastfeeding moms to “discreet” (read: obscure) corners of the internet does nothing to encourage accepting breastfeeding as a normal and beneficial piece of family life."
Certainly it's tempting to leave. It's not nice to feel unwanted anywhere, and it's not nice to feel like you're tempting fate every time you post something as risque as feeding an infant. However this problem is more than a "lactivist" issue. The issue is about how we as a society feel about our own bodies.
I'm sure we're all used to seeing underwear ads at the bus stop, perfume ads involving women in lingerie... yet the ad that was censored recently from the Calgary Transit lines was an image of a newborn baby
This giant sculpture is by Ron Mueck. It was being shown at the Glenbow Museum of Calgary, but the advertisements were declined for use in public transit areas- because it might be "too much" for some people. However, as someone so aply put it on my Facebook page: "We've all been there." I feel that beyond the obvious concerns about so-called nudity in breastfeeding or childbirth, the abhorrent tendancy to get breastfeeding mixed up with sex... I think people are also repelled by the vulnerability of the images, the lack of airbrushing and "beauty" as we're used to seeing it, as well as the very human quality. I think people are afraid of their own humanity.
Breastfeeding images, pregnancy photos, childbirth and newborn babies all serve to remind us that we're human. These women also come in all shapes and sizes, they don't fit the beauty standard we're used to seeing. I think if anything we need to see more images of normal women's breasts, for example, to remind ourselves what women look like without plastic surgery and airbrushing. I think it's important to remember who we are- vulnerable, miraculous and highly imperfect, in order to completely value ourselves.
My first interaction with Jessica of the Leaky Boob
was when I submitted a blog for her breastfeeding carnival. I was at a wedding, using a friend's laptop to communicate with her. It was harried and confusing, yet she was incredibly forgiving, warm, funny and sweet. She very gently steered me towards a more personal article than the one I was planning on submitting, which resulted in one of my better pieces of writing
. I continued keeping in touch with her and found her so encouraging of my artwork. She seems to share my desire to represent all women, regardless of background, parenting approach and shortcomings. In many ways she is my inspiration. I consider her a better person than I am. She is more patient and forgiving, and more likely to be amused than angry. I strive to treat people the way she does.
I personally had spent a lot of time on The Leaky Boob fansite. I was just in the process of giving advice to a new mother who feared she was not producing enough milk when it was deleted. Now I have no memory of the mother's name, no idea how to get in touch with her and tell her not to worry... if her baby is gaining weight she's probably fine. This to me is a violation of OUR rights, that such a useful and decent page could be deleted without warning. I have never known The Leaky Boob to be anything but a place of gentleness, solidarity, good humour and helpful advice. Jessica was never one to judge another person, so how DARE she be judged in this way? Obscene? Give me a break.
Since I wrote this article the Leaky Boob was re-instated as a Facebook page, then about an hour ago it was removed again, as well as the Bring Back the Leaky Boob page that rallied so much support. Once again we need to rally together, notify news agencies if you can, get all the support you can, and once again we need to Bring Back the Leaky Boob- Again. Please join. I feel this is an important issue for all mothers regardless of parenting habits. We need to make sure breastfeeding advice is accessable and not discriminated against in this manner.
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.
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.