A petition has started to remove a sculpture in a Kansas arboretum depicting a topless woman taking a photograph of herself. Though a parental guidance warning has been posted before the entrance to the sculpture garden, the petition is seeking to have the statue declared obscene and removed from the park. Joanne Hughes, the person leading the campaign, worries that it promotes sexting. She says in a TV news interview:
It’s OK to take your clothes off and take nude pictures? And as an adult … it’s not something I’m going to do, but maybe something an impressionable youth will think is acceptable.
Titled “Accept or reject” (or “Choice”) some commentators believe the artwork by Chinese artist Yu Chang is critical of women’s self-objectification:
Rather than promoting sexting, the sculpture is meant to point out the danger of digital technology and social media — how in fragmenting individuals into separate parts, including their sexuality, people can lose part of their humanity and individuality. The fact that the woman in the sculpture has no head underscores this point.
In another article Hughes says:
I didn’t take the time to understand the artist’s message … I was really thinking, ‘Good grief, what is that doing here?’ It is vulgar. It is provocative. I thought it was glorifying sexting. For me, it is very offensive.
She is not moved by argument that sculptures often depict nudity:
I have seen the statue of David in person. It is beautiful. He’s also not taking a picture of his penis. There is a difference there. The message is different.
It’s interesting that Hughes is ok with David (and presumably the Venus de Milo as well) because they are art and thus non-sexual. But I think we’re missing something about all those naked classics if we pretend there’s no erotic intent to them at all.
More importantly, why is a statue depicting self-objectification more offensive than artwork objectifying women created by male artists? The problem people are having with this statue is not the nudity, it’s sexuality. The classic female nude is a passive object rendered in paint or stone or metal by a (usually) male artist; holding up a camera (though she’s still a topless headless statue), makes this particular muse no longer entirely passive.
Some news coverage blurs out the statue’s exposed breasts, but I don’t think that’s really what people feel is offensive about it. Instead they should censor the statue’s outstretched arm with the camera–the act of choosing to represent herself is what seems to be the problem.