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.
When I first saw the reference photo I used for this painting it was among those photos posted on the TERA website (Topfree Equal Rights Association) which had been removed by Facebook. I found the photo riviting- the look on her face expressed all the awe and emotion that I had felt after the birth of my daughter. The fact that the mother and baby were locked in each other's gaze reminded me of what I felt when I first looked into my daughter's eyes- I felt as if I had seen her before. "Hello! Remember me?"
It disturbs me that a photo like this might be removed while others like the one below are allowed to remain.
The first image is not necessarily very nude. No breast area is visable at all, and only a faint shadow can be seen in the crotch area. Her state is very obviously non- sexual; she is nude for the purpose of childbirth, specifically a water birth. She's very real, very female, but not sexualized.
I venture to guess that it's the fact that this image is NOT sexual that people find disturbing. I wonder if it's the fact that she's very human looking, very raw and emotional that upsets people. Her vulnerable state, her love and obvious joy may be off-putting to people, it reminds us of our own vulnerable state, our own humanity. In the same way that people seem to find breastfeeding images disturbing, I think they find childbirth photos equally upsetting. They remind us that we are not the airbrushed, sexualized vision we are used to seeing in the media.
They remind us that we are human.
As it first appeared published in "Harlot's Sauce" June 29th, 2010
After the birth of my son in 2007, I felt an incredible energy and drive to make art. Contrary to the popular belief that art-making is one of the things that fall to the wayside after the birth of children, I felt not just inspired but compelled by my experience of childbirth and motherhood. The creative act of making another human being awoke a creative drive in me. I also found that the time limitations involved in caring for an infant forced me to be more disciplined, eking out an hour here and there when my son was sleeping to continue my portraits. After my daughter’s birth in 2008, I embarked on a series of mother and child portraits accompanied by birth stories written by each subject. I wanted to simultaneously express the imperfection and fallibility of the mothers and capture an element of the divine in the mother/child bond. Each mother in the series shares her birth story—life-changing, beautiful, or harrowing—and these experiences unify a very diverse group with a common theme: love, self sacrifice and transcendence. The inspiration for this project is my children: their beauty, their challenges and the unique and universal bond of motherhood.
Each portrait is done in ‘conte crayon’ (semi hard pastel,) accented with a gold leaf halo in an echo of portraits of the Virgin Mary with child (Madonna Lactans) from the 15th century, as well as an early 20th century revival of the practice by such artists as William Adolphe Bouguereau. Working out the process of creating the haloes was complicated. I outlined the circular shapes and filled them in with the leaf in the first four portraits, then devised a way to make a pattern in the halo with “Gladys and Elizabeth.” I was thinking of rose windows, and wracking my brain for a way to make such an even pattern by hand with my limited math skills. Unable to think of anything, I set the problem aside and started cutting out snowflakes with my son instead. Then it occurred to me to cut an elaborate snowflake and use the radiating design for the halo. I outlined a snowflake pattern on each halo and painted the gold leaf sizing on to the ground of the pattern, but not the holes, waited for the sizing to dry, and then rubbed the un-sized leaf off to reveal the pattern.
Three of my portraits are of mothers breastfeeding their babies. These modern Madonnas Lactans are a true celebration of motherhood. Breastfeeding can be a challenge. Many women did not witness their mothers breastfeeding and are unsure of how to do it correctly, and many are unnerved by the social stigma surrounding breastfeeding in public. The simple act of successfully breastfeeding their babies is a true victory. For me, there is an aura of joy, bliss and awe surrounding a breastfeeding mother, as she seems to embody the fundamental divinity of motherhood, the Gaia and the Virgin Mary. I personally find breastfeeding mothers so beautiful and pure that I was unprepared for the reaction my portraits generated when I posted them on the popular networking website Facebook.
I posted one on a figurative artists group on Facebook, and was surprised to see that it had been removed on March 27th, 2010, just a few days later. I had already posted two more portraits, so I went ahead and reposted the one in question, thinking it must have been a glitch. My new artwork was removed on March 28th, and then on March 29th the re-posted portrait was removed as well. I reposted all three in a row, as a kind of experiment, and received the following letter by email:
If you have any questions or concerns, you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org from your login email address.
The Facebook Team
I went to the local CBC radio station, and was featured on the CBC Radio One morning show “On The Island” with Gregor Craigie, (go to April 9th podcast, I'm at about 7:38 in the program.) After that, the story took on a life of its own. It was covered by various CBC broadcasts, a CBC television news program in Saskatoon, CBC Radio One’s “The Story from Here,” with Sheila Coles, (listen to part two of June 23rd 2010,) CHEK-TV News in Victoria, two talk radio shows in Toronto and Montreal, the front page of the local Comox Valley Record and an article by Antonia Zerbisias in the Toronto Star.
I believe that Facebook’s treatment of my breastfeeding portraits is indicative of the brutally high expectations that society holds for mothers. Mothers are expected to breastfeed, every health organization tells us it’s the best choice, yet images of women breastfeeding are labelled obscene and mothers are treated with hostility and disdain when breastfeeding in public. The result is an ideal of motherhood that no mother could possibly meet: scolded if we don’t nourish our babies exactly the way they tell us to, shamed if we dare to do it in public or celebrate and honour the unique bond it creates.
A common theme throughout many of the birth stories was a sense of inadequacy. Many women felt they had not lived up to their ideal of what a mother should be, what a birth should be. There was often a sense of loneliness, as in the story of Gladys and Elizabeth. Gladys came to Canada with her Canadian husband and gave birth far away from her native Kenya, in the dead of winter. Many of us, myself included, wished to have a natural birth, and had to settle for a c section birth instead. For some women it was elating to give birth naturally after a previous c section, proving to themselves that they were capable of giving birth. For everyone the act of childbirth was a rite of passage, a moment in our lives right before motherhood, when everything changes, even one’s sense of self. I wanted to draw parallels between our own ideals of what a mother should be, and the cultural ideal of motherhood, symbolized by the Virgin Mary. I wanted to simultaneously honour both that ideal and actual motherhood in all the glory of its imperfection.
My biggest issue with the Facebook censorship was that it was selective. The artwork posted on the figurative and portrait site includes many (wonderful) full nudes, while none of my portraits show more than a two-piece bathing suit would. I can only conclude that it is not the amount of bare flesh, but the subject matter of my work that they find offensive, and I find that abhorrent. Breastfeeding is not obscene. If you wish to take part in an online petition, please join my Facebook group: “Hey Facebook! Breastfeeding artwork is not obscene!”
A blog on art, roller derby and life.
I'm an artist and mother of two in Courtenay, BC. I've completed a project called the "Madonna and Child Project," and I'm now working on a series of roller derby inspired drawings. In my spare time I play roller derby with the Brick House Betties.