Tessa Boffin Research- Council Accused of Censorship

UCA Archives are pleased to have hosted volunteers from Photography at UCA. Josie and Fran talk about their research on the Tessa Boffin Archive

They are looking at publicity material and reviews surrounding the AIDS exhibition Ecstatic Antibodies

Photocopy of a newspaper clipping on the exhibition Ecstatic Antibodies. Discussing the ideas behind the exhibition and the artwork. The article describes a few various reasons as to why the Viewpoint Gallery initially cancelled the exhibition, some of the thoughts towards the exhibition were actually that it was seen as pornographic due to various poses in some of the imagery, whether this was an understatement of the ideas behind the imagery or it could simply be a  light minded opinion of the art, it would still not be a reason for the exhibition to be cancelled.

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Denise Birkenshaw, Salford Council’s principle art officer (at the time), held an initial meeting with two gallery programmers, Jane Brake and Paul Brownridge, in reference as to whether the show should continue or not, their overall decision was cancellation, what was interesting about this factor was how the matter was not actually discussed with anybody else on the Council’s committee and it was basically and overall opinion of Birkenshaw herself, however some other articles discussed the fact that Royston Footer from the council committee cancelled the event. It was said that ‘Birkenshaw’s decision was influenced after discovering that when the exhibition was in York’s Impressions Gallery, one of the pictures was removed to an adults only area after the police request. Other than this there were no incidents.’

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A quote from the article said that ‘…a council spokesman gave the official reason that the show was “not suitable for a public gallery where young children might be”.’ this shows the conflict that the exhibition had with the council’s ideas of right and wrong. The idea that the imagery was not suitable to be shown in a ‘family gallery’ was slightly outrageous in the sense that the idea of Ecstatic Antibodies was to not horrify people, but to bring peoples attention to the matter and help the crisis, suggesting that maybe the younger generation should be able to view such things in the intentions of learning about such diseases and safer sex.

The majority of articles and opinions have actually been based on a single image, Tessa Boffin’s Angelic Rebels: Lesbians and Safer Sex, which shows two women embracing (fully clothed) with sex toys and various other objects on the floor, the article that we looked at taken from The British Journal of Photography actually captioned the image “Oral sex? Tessa Boffin thinks not”, suggesting that their views were that the image was sexually explicit. Tessa ‘told The British Journal of Photography: ‘A lot of the work as been badly misread… two women dressed as angels who end up embracing: they (Birkenshaw) said my work was about lesbians having oral sex… It’s about lesbians and safer sex’.’ The fact of the matter is that there was no communication, for something that was meant to speak out to the public about heath and disease it became about sex and the right to show the human body and their relationships.

Thank you for reading our post.

Josie Evans and Frances Jackson – Second Year Photography

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