Tampon photo incites controversy at the Fashion Institute

“FIT endorses the right of artists to freely express their views through their work” reads a sign at the beginning of a student photography show on display in one of the institute’s lobbies. The sign also warns that artwork may be inappropriate for some people. That didn’t stop the Dean from requesting that a photograph by Jessica Chow be covered up. The work is composed of a number of seemingly used tampons on a bright red background. No other images in the exhibition are covered, in spite of the fact that they sometimes contain disturbing material like a woman’s face bearing traces of violence.

In a recent blog post about this incident, Chow describes her disappointment, saying:

I really need to put this on my priority to-do list, fight censorship at this school I am at.  I do not know what I am going to do/how/etc, I have attempted to start however, and I really do damned hope I keep this going.  This should be a nice first project for me as a newly accepted advertising/marketing student right?

Even though the photograph has not been entirely removed from the show, the act of covering it up is a classic act of censorship. The flap – which may be taken as an intended part of the work as there is no sign explaining its appearance – completely changes the message of Chow’s piece and suggests there is something possibly obscene/shameful/indecent about the image.

Chow also criticizes the school’s squeamishness towards her subject:

and like many people who saw my piece have said “this is an art school, are you kidding me?!”  So much hypocrisy.

The work in question is clearly not obscene (it is not even sexual). In fact, there is a long tradition of art work that shows – without shame – objects that are part of women’s daily lives (Judy Chicago’s Red Flag is one of the most well know of these works).

As an educational institution, the Fashion Institute of Technology should uphold principles of academic freedom in the classroom as well as in showing student work. Its administrators should reconsider their decision to treat an image of tampons – ordinary enough objects – as shameful and dangerous. There should be flaps over every image in the student show or over none of them.

UPDATE: As of May 18, 2010, the scrim has been removed from the photograph!


About Blog of the National Coalition Against Censorship

Blogging Censorship is where National Coalition Against Censorship staff weigh in on the censorship issues on their minds.
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8 Responses to Tampon photo incites controversy at the Fashion Institute

  1. Pingback: Kink On Tap » Blog Archive » Tampon photo incites controversy at the Fashion Institute « Blogging Censorship

  2. I think this is hilarious, but not at the same time. It’s not like it’s the first time someone has used tampons as art work. Half the population spends half their life bleeding. Why is the normal functioning of the female body something to keep hidden. No wonder she is pissed off!

  3. unpopular_opinion says:

    I’m sure I’m not the only woman to feel this way, but… Used (or “used”) tampons are *trash*, not *art*.

    Do I think the school “should” have covered up the art? No. Do I think someone “should” have pointed out that very few people love their bodily wastes so much that they keep them around instead of disposing of them properly? Yes.

    And no, this is not an opinion pushed on me by patriarchical body-hating whoevers. I, personally, have no emotional investment in my bodily wastes, other than being grateful that they indicate my body is functioning properly.

    Do I think that other people want to see my bodily excretia? Not in the least. Do *I* want to see that of other people? Sweet Jesus in a flaming peach tree, NO. Why the hell would any other woman (or man, for that matter) _think_ that *I* (or anyone else) would want to see theirs?

    This isn’t a matter of what’s “appropriate”; it’s a matter of not wanting to be exposed to someone else’s bodily waste/fluids, real or pretend — if I want to see a bunch of used tampons, I can just collect my own.

    Yes, art censorship is an incredibly important issue. Yes, I think the school dropped the ball on this. No, I don’t think that the piece constitutes “art”.

  4. Pingback: Une affiche pour faire tampon ? « biblioth|ê|thique

  5. Dan Kleinman says:

    Regarding art censorship, please consider the case of the Menomonee Falls Public Library censoring out the art of Christian children, though it eventually reversed its position. I am hoping the NCAC will address the issue.

    Quoting now:

    In 2010, Teacher Leslie Granberg says 15-20 pieces of her student art never made it on display. She says the apologetic library staff telling her, “You can not have crosses we have called the other school and told them to take down their work.”

    Granberg says she was never given an official reason, but when asked if the township was concerned about blurring the lines of church and state. She replied, “Yes they probably don’t want us pushing religion.”


    Click on the link under my name to learn more.

  6. Pingback: Disney Unveils A First-of-its-kind Alice In Wonderland Exhibition At LA Fashion Institute of Design | Celebrity News

  7. Cletus Shier says:

    Awesome philosophy. I love it. Thank you for sharing

  8. Pingback: Censorship and International Women’s Day « Blogging Censorship

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