Worried that the message of his senior exhibition was being compromised, Ethan Parker, art senior, voiced concern over the placement of his work in the foyer adjacent to the Juanita and Ralph Harvey School of Visual Arts.
Parker, a graduating art student, created a collection of sculptures and artwork that includes depictions of male genitalia for the senior art exhibition Friday, May 4, 2018.
“My show is about deconstructing male egos,” Parker said. “When I came back the Tuesday after I finished hanging my show, it had been changed. It was completely isolated in what was, essentially, a closet of walls.”
Art Professor Catherine Prose said she and Parker were equally surprised to find the presentation of his work altered without being consulted.
“We were prepared for there to be some sort of reaction to it,” Prose said. “In an effort to figure out how best to exhibit it, we had come up with the idea of creating some form of threshold so as to give audiences the choice to engage with the artwork if they wanted to. I believed everybody was happy with the choice, but then we discovered that it was closed off.”
Prose said she and Parker immediately looked into the issue, eventually meeting with the Lamar D. Fain College of Fine Arts Dean Martin Camacho to resolve the issue.
“There’s a number of options that people, myself included, have explored, but the course of action is very fluid,” Camacho said. “It is important, in this context, that we understand that 90 percent of the time, that section of the building is not primarily designed to display art. It’s used as a passage way. This dual use of the space does pose challenges in reconciling the interests of the student to display their work in the way it’s intended, as well as the duty that the institution may have to protect people’s choices to expose themselves to different types of art. It’s not about the work or the message, it’s about the building and the dual function of the space.”
Prose said the conversation was fruitful, resulting in the decision that the walls blocking Parker’s work would come down for the duration of the actual exhibition, when attendees would come prepared for “the intellectual challenge posed by this kind of work.”
Though he agreed with the decision, Parker said he still believes he’s at the disadvantage of a double standard.
“There are numerous nude, female art pieces in our hallways every day,” Parker said. “Nobody has said anything about those being put away. It’s the fact that these were penises.”
According to Prose, the stigmas surrounding the presentation of male nudity are historic.
“You can find research papers on the idea of protecting the male nude in art,” she said. “For a long time, we would hear, ‘It’s because male bodies aren’t attractive as female bodies,’ and we know that’s just absurd. Male bodies are fantastic. We know they’re fantastic, okay? These stereotypes and stigmas are culturally-assigned.”
Nudity, though, is usually a grey area as far as legality is concerned.
“The U.S. rules that nudity is art, but becomes obscene if there’s sexual content,” Prose said. “I’ve seen women with erect nipples on full display in the hallway, and that didn’t seem to be an issue. Honestly, if it was a female nude, or even a female nude in an erotic pose, I don’t think we’d be having this conversation. Look on advertisement all around. We see the sexualization of women all the time, but we don’t see that with the male physique. Is one crude, but the other isn’t? We live in a very exciting time where all of these questions are starting to be discussed.”
Camacho also said he believed this kind of conversation is beneficial for all parties involved.
“Our intention is exactly the opposite of censorship. We believe that this work needs to be shown, and we have engaged in a productive conversation to determine how we can safely and properly exhibit work of this gravity given the limitations of the space,” Camacho said.
Despite his initial concern, Parker said his work has fulfilled its purpose.
“The artwork, in itself, did exactly what it was supposed to do,” Parker said. “The fact that somebody saw it and thought, ‘That might cause an issue in this context’ is ok with me. That’s how these conversations start.”
See Parker’s work on display adjacent to the Juanita and Ralph Harvey Art Gallery during the 2018 Senior Exhibition Reception 6-8 p.m. Friday, May 4, 2018.