I thought the days of prudishness and censorship was over. I naively thought that in our country catholic morality and its adherent’s abject view that the naked body should be hidden, covered was a throwback to a pre-secular time. But no, wrong, again. On Saturday I went with my wife and child to the Crawford Gallery in Cork to see a group exhibition, Backwater Twenty – 10 – a celebration of The Backwater Artists Group, in Cork, that has run a successful collective studio base in the City for the past twenty years. All good so far. We began on the ground floor (the exhibition was held in a number of rooms on two floors) and walked around, looked at the work, my daughter pointing and shouting at the work as is the want of all children. We then headed towards a smaller room, off the main one, I think it was called The Project Room. And then we were stopped by a man sitting behind a desk, ‘The Overseer’. He pointed to a small sign on the wall and told us that our daughter was not allowed into the other room. It was for adults only. There was unsuitable material on view. Initially I stupidly thought that that he meant there was work in there made out of harmful, toxic materials, materials that would affect the health of our child. So we relented, shrugged – if there were unsuitable materials that might affect the health of our child (after all she is only one) we’d simply take it in turns. My wife took Eva and I walked in, intrigued to know what was so harmful, so dangerous about the contents of the room.
It was flesh. Yes, naked bodies rendered in charcoal, pencil, pastel, sketchbooks, printings, paintings of models, body parts, twisting, posing, lounging on chairs, flaunting, pensive, thoughtful. I was shocked. How was this unsuitable? What was the justification for this puritanical ruling? Who made the decision? How dare anyone tell me what my daughter can or can’t see. What’s wrong with looking at drawings of the naked body, looking at flesh? How can these drawings be deemed unsuitable for the eyes of a one year old, for anyone? How is this possible? It’s not as if we live in a strict theocracy.
As I write this I’m still trying to get my head around it. But I can’t. I can’t rationalise it. It appals me. It’s outrageous. While we were there a 17 year old (it came up in the conversation) and her mother were stopped by ‘The Overseer’. She too was barred from entry. The mother intervened and told him that her daughter was in Art College – no good. They turned around and went upstairs – the notion of having to justify themselves was probably too much to bear with any dignity. Bizarre. I wanted to challenge the man guarding our purity but it was quite clear that this was gallery policy. The Gallery had decided that life drawings and nudes could only be seen by those that over 18 and with identification. Writing this today I’m still confused. Can someone please illuminate me? Have we gone so far down the politically correct road that we’ve gone mad? Please tell me this is an aberration? Please tell me this is a once off?
The exhibition is now over but tomorrow I’m going to make some calls and find out what that sign, that ruling was all about. This is a disgrace. A blight.
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