Behind the Fig Leaf
A nude photographic image has been censored at the city of Albuquerque South Broadway Cultural Center; oddly the same image that appeared 11 inches tall on the July cover of abqARTS.
The city has a policy to censor art which they consider offensive and by their actions one can conclude that nudity falls into this category. Which city official is ultimately in charge of art censorship, and why is nudity patently offensive? We're all only a layer of clothing away from nudity and the body is only available in two models. What is the city trying to hide, and from whom?
Instead of removing the artwork, the presumed offending parts have been covered à la Adam and Eve. The original intent of the piece is no longer intact, but the modifications serve to call attention to the inanity of this policy.
But underneath it all, beneath the "fig leaf" camouflage appended to the image, there is more than mere nakedness to worry about: censorship, prudery, ignorance and philistinism. All part and parcel of our times, I suppose, where the will of a powerful yet uninformed and ill-educated few is imposed onto public policy.
The study of art has its roots in naked forms. As far back as one chooses to go into the past ages of human creativity one will be confronted with the naked human figure. Not as a salacious, prurient or smirking oddity, but in all its power to communicate human hopes and fears and dreams. The human form in its nakedness can and does communicate those aspects of our humanity which are most powerful. There is no shame in viewing the human form when it is depicted without clothing. Only shame in those who bare their ignorance by forbidding others to view what lies beneath all of our clothed bodies—the truth in our humanity. It is the artist who shows us who we are, fearlessly. If we are not allowed to see ourselves reflected in the naked human form, then we are sadly diminished.
The people of Albuquerque need to talk about this. In a state where so many artists choose to reside, it is important for the topic of censorship in art to be fully explored. No one perspective can or will prevail. But the conversation should begin now. There are other ways to remain courteous to differing views than to remove or visually alter artworks that a wider public should be able to study. I hope that artists, arts groups and city leaders can get together to talk about this important educational issue.
I read about new animal ordinance in Weekly Alibi ["Newscity," Aug. 26-Sept. 1] and noted your request for feedback. I couldn't be happier that someone is taking a strong stand on animal cruelty. I lived in Albuquerque for 10 years (I now live in New York), and while living there adopted two great dogs from the Humane Society. While living in Albuquerque, I saw some heartbreaking cases of animal cruelty and neglect. In the neighborhood I lived in, west of Old Town, I saw many dogs loose and roaming the streets or on short chains in dirt yards with no shade and often no water. I sometimes saw dead or injured dogs and I rescued several strays. I'm so happy you're doing something about an appalling situation. I was also relieved to see that the city will offer low-cost spaying and neutering, an overdue, smart approach that will help to stanch the outrageous animal overpopulation in Albuquerque.
Symptoms of a Sick System
[RE: "Ortiz y Pino," Sept. 2-8] Actually the behavioral health care has been contracted to the private sector for seven years. The proposed new system is the latest change in that system. However, the concerns that Mr. Ortiz y Pino raises are just as legitimate, if not more so because the fears he raises have already happened.
The state government, particularly the Human Services Department, appears more concerned about the managed care insurance companies than the clients or actual providers. Huge amounts of public funds have gone to administrative costs and profits while community programs have had constant financial struggles because of inadequate payments.
Many programs have closed. Suicidal and seriously mentally ill clients are turned away from hospital admissions on a regular basis (and this is not the fault of the hospitals but of a system that makes more money by denying care). Hospital stays are often too short to stabilize clients. The clients that community programs treat have become more and more ill. It has become much more difficult for community agencies to recruit qualified staff because of pressures for more and more productivity, excessive paperwork and inadequate funding to pay competitive salaries.
What may happen with these clients is that they become isolated, stop taking medication they need and become more symptomatic, or commit suicide. Now state government is proposing an overly complicated new system, which is still privatized and threatens to create chaos and confusion as well. There is probably enough money to adequately provide services for our poor and disabled clients if that funding could go directly to providers and clients.
There is no real justification for having the managed care insurance companies involved, except for the apparent belief of state government that the private sector can always do a better job than government. The cost of this belief to our often very fragile clients has been too high already.
Thanks for running that great article by Don McIver on the National Poetry Slam ["Poetry News," Sept. 2-8]. As a poet and events organizer from Austin, Texas, I appreciate publications nationwide that help spread the word about the happenings in our community. I am very excited about coming to your city next year for the National Poetry Slam and will be reading your paper for articles about the poetry and other arts events to come.
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