A recent incident of art censorship in Berlin has sparked a debate about the difference between art and pornography, as well as the importance of artistic freedom versus religious sensitivity.
According to the American Foreign Press, an adult education center removed a series of six nude paintings in an attempt to acknowledge and respect Muslim religious beliefs.
The school's deputy head feared the works may shock Muslim students and prevent them from attending class. The school is located nearby a newly established refugee center, which draws immigrants and asylum-seekers to the once mostly German-born region.
by Berlin artist Susanne Schueffel
The decision was immediately critiqued by some as an unnecessary precaution and an inhibitor to artistic freedom. District council member Juliane Witt aptly expressed how the decision could not only negatively affect the artists and German students, but the Muslim students as well. "If you do something to protect someone, then you are defining them," she told the AFP, "and that can be stigmatizing."
"It is worth reiterating that a great many Muslims in Berlin, Germany, and the world at large are not offended by images of the human body, nude or otherwise," explained Sean Roberts, Assistant Professor of Art History at U.S.C., in an email to the Huffington Post. "Moreover, the questioning of whether nude paintings, drawings, and photographs are appropriate for display in schools is hardly limited to clashes between Muslim and secular communities, but rather has cropped up at high schools and universities (including many in the United States) for decades."
Roberts also noted the difference between removing the work from a public space as opposed to an artistic sanctuary. "There is a distinction to be made between works on display within museum and gallery spaces and those placed prominently in the public areas of a building like a school. Practically everyone -- whether within or outside of the art world -- recognizes that some objects and images that are completely appropriate in a museum (perhaps certain of Mapplethorpe's photographs to use a banal example) would not be appropriate in a school hallway."
"The decision to remove or include the work of Susanne Schueffel is not a case of the censorship of a museum," he added, "but a matter of different opinions, it seems, on what is appropriate in public space. And these kinds of matters can only really be settled by consensus."
Due to an outpour of criticism the decision has been revoked and the paintings restored, although now they hang next to the public toilets. Still, the debate regarding artistic freedom rages on. See 10 other artists who have been censored for their work in the slideshow below:
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