Exhibition features artists who have all faced censorship in their careers

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Exhibition features artists who have all faced censorship in their careers
Polly Borland, Nudie 10, 2021, Image Copyright the Artist, Courtesy the Artist and Nino Mier Gallery.

LONDON.- Unit London presents Sensitive Content, an exhibition exploring the issue of artistic censorship from 13 September - 16 October, 2022

● Sensitive Content features artists who have all faced censorship in their careers, particularly those who have been censored because they platform marginalised groups

● The exhibition examines the courageous ways artists have resolved to create work from nuanced perspectives on sex, beauty and politics, despite censorship

● Curated by artist Helen Beard, and art historians Alayo Akinkugbe and Maria Elena Buszek, the exhibition surveys censored artworks from the 1940’s to the present day

Sensitive Content brings together artists who have first-hand experience of censorship, and in particular, those who are censored on the basis of their work depicting or giving voice to systematically marginalised groups. The exhibition seeks to demonstrate how these artists have been galvanised to continue to create artwork that challenges the status quo. Curated by artist Helen Beard and art historians Alayo Akinkugbe and Maria Elena Buszek, the exhibition features artists whose censorship by art institutions, government bodies and social media platforms has spanned the last half-century, raising the question: who gets to decide what is appropriate for public consumption?

From Betty Tompkins’ paintings being seized by French customs for ‘obscenity’ in 1973, to the present-day barrage of social media flagging of feminist, queer and anti racist works by artists such as Micol Hebron – censorship has been a longstanding source of contention throughout the history of art as a violation of artistic freedom of expression. Museums, governments, and corporations have reserved the right to censor artworks for centuries on the grounds that they may deem what works are offensive to the public. In the present day, the conflict rages online, where artwork is removed according to the will of algorithms. Sensitive Content considers how these restrictions encourage a regression to a society of sanitised culture, and how artists across the last half-century have resolved to use their creativity to push back.

Exhibited works speak to the myriad of ways in which artists have both encountered and fought against the censorship of their work. For example, Penny Slinger, whose collaged books depicting sexual and metaphysical imagery were burned by UK customs, only for her to release a 600 illustration volume within a year’s time; to Renee Cox whose interpretation of da Vinci’s Last Supper drew then-New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s call for the defunding of a public museum, as the artist fired back her right to remake the masterpiece in her own image. Also featured in Sensitive Content, are artists such as Xiao Lu and Pussy Riot, whose performance-based works are often created to respond to governmental oppression and endure the threat of imprisonment.

The exhibition further explores censorship in the contemporary context of the digital, addressing how social media platforms task AI filters with deciding what constitutes inappropriate content online. Following a grassroots campaign of petitions, complaints and protests, a 2019 meeting at Facebook headquarters sought to discuss a reconsideration of their nudity guidelines and its impact on artists. Three years on, artists encounter daily flagging, banning and removal of their work on social media. For artists like Helen Beard and Emma Shapiro, whose work intrinsically depicts the naked body, digital censorship raises issues of how artists lose not only the opportunity to share their work, but also the support of the art world.

Joe Kennedy, Co-Founder & Director of Unit London, says: “Unit London is delighted to present Sensitive Content, an exhibition of artists whose experiences of censorship have demonstrated the ability of art to defy convention and open dialogues which affect societal change. We are pleased to be working with Helen Beard, Maria Elena Buszek and Alayo Akinkugbe whose curation has underlined the pivotal issue of censorship in the artworld today, not only in the gallery space but in the digital realm. To amplify these significant discussions on the issue of censorship, Sensitive Content will run through October 16, to coincide with Frieze London. ”

Curator, Maria Elena Buszek says: “The work in this exhibition tracks what has and hasn’t changed in terms of ‘objectionable’ imagery since the rise of post-World War II civil rights movements. Whether blocked by government censors or AI, the artists chosen for exhibition in Sensitive Content have all faced censorship in their careers not necessarily due to the prurient or agitational nature of their work, but more often because their marginalised perspectives on sex, beauty, and politics confuse or threaten the dominant narratives on these topics.”

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