Reviewed by JJ Schaer
Glitterarti, at the Birkenhead Visitors Park, and Banned In Birkenhead, at Art Hub 51, is the same exhibition that has been banned out of both of its locations – lasting one day at the former, before being closed due to a managerial decision, and just over a weekend at the latter, this time being cut short in its run due to complaints from the general public. The reasons being given including a piece as being indecent, one as being religiously offensive, some containing dark imagery and a further being cited as a health and safety hazard for being painted on glass.
I saw the exhibition whilst it was briefly housed in Arts Hub 51 and I can honestly say I was far from offended. There were a number of pieces on show from several artists on a wide range of themes. There were frenetic glittery landscapes from Virginia Chandler; some neon zombie-esque paintings and a brilliant self explanatory piece called ‘Spitting Teeth’ by Chris Zombieking – his pieces were also cited as those being provocative; a selection of cartoonish monsters by Ilan Sheady; as well as portraits in graffiti by Jade Marie Bell and some in oils by Louise Boyce, amongst others.
Two of the pieces that received complaints where Ambidexter’s crucifixes and Shelli Le Fay’s ‘Unmother’ painting (pictured). I spoke to the two artists about their work and their views on the exhibitions.
Ambidexter had five crucifixes on show, all painted in vivid colours and one showing a Ganesh crucified, along with another painting. “There was four Jesus’ and one Ganesh all crucified. And I also had one called ‘Roller Girl Loopy Loo’ which was basically a bare breasted woman on roller skates with a megaphone for a head, which was one of the things taken offence to… As of the Jesus’, or Jesi as they have been known, it was a bit of a fun poke at religion. The Ganesh one I did was not so much a poke at religion, but I just liked the idea of religios-fusion. There is a ridiculousness, that I think, exists in the believability of religion and religious ideas. So trying to make Jesus unbelievable, or more unbelievable, than he is is also one part of it as well.”
Shelli Le Fay had a number of pieces on show, all in a gothic cartoon form with hearts as their central theme, but it was her one piece ‘Unmother’ that seemed to cause offence. “The people at the exhibition didn’t know this, but the piece was about abortion, which they may have found challenging, but they didn’t know that part of it. Now the thing is in my painting when I was doing it was I’d had this problem before, with breasts basically. I was told that I wasn’t allowed to show it at certain places because of that. Which I’ve always found kind of stupid but I went along with it. But with this painting when I was doing it I kind of wanted to avoid having nipples in it because I knew this could happen… So in Unmother there was a woman in the bath and I wanted to put the heart in it I realised without painting the nipples in it looked wrong. The proportions would have been wrong. So in the end I just decided to do it and though it’ll probably be fine I’ll just take the risk. And that was their problem with it because they didn’t know what the actual concept was. The thing that sort of bothered me the most about that I suppose is that it is entirely non-sexual nudity. It is just a woman sitting in a bath and her breasts are just there because they are a part of her body and there’s nothing sort of vaguely erotic about it at all…. It didn’t surprise me remotely because it had happened before, but the thing that bothered me was that no one had asked to see our work before we put it up.”
It must also be noted that during the interim between the two venues, the exhibition was housed for a week at the Atrium without any complaints from the management or public.
I asked them if they thought that their works were offensive. Ambidexter said, “I think they were a bit provocative. I personally have some artwork that I could have put up which would have been more offensive. I still don’t think that’s offensive, I don’t like to do stuff that’s just blatantly nasty or offensive sort of thing. So even my stuff that’s more offensive doesn’t cross a line that I’ve drawn that I would say is offensive, I just think it’s on the edge and that’s were I like to keep it. But that’s a very subjective term offensive. I’m sure there are a lot of things that wouldn’t offend some people that would offend me.”
Shelli had similar views, “All of the work did have quite challenging themes behind them, but they weren’t the reason that they took the pieces down. None of the work is about the human body, none of it is about nudity, or sexuality, or erotica. It just uses the human body as a way of expressing a challenging theme. Like mine being about choosing not to be a mother and some of the other work like Chris’ was based on horror. But they are using the body to get that concept across, it is not about the body. Where the reason they had the problem with it was a really shallow thing of ‘you can’t have nudity in it’, whereas if they had known mine was about abortion they would have probably been more shocked.… I didn’t paint that to be offensive. That’s the not the type of person I am. I don’t
As of writing this article the exhibition has yet to find a new home.
Image of ‘Unmother’ courtesy of Shelli Le Fay.