The Story of The Offensive Nipple

tom barlett nipple

Have an opinion, be brave and be bold. Push the boundaries and push what 'art' can mean. This post could have been called many different things, including "A Curators Worst Nightmare" and "Why Is The Female Nipple Offensive?".

As you know I recently curated a show at Rock House, the private view was Tuesday and I had some amazing and important conversations. After installing the last on the work on the Tuesday I went home to shower, relax, drink tea and concern myself with who, if any, would turn up to the private view.

What I didn't expect was a message telling me that someone was offended by an art work that featured a female nipple, that it had to come down immediately. I was also not expecting to have a backlash over an artwork that people found humorous. Earlier in the day Erica had shown two friends around the exhibition space, and shown them the artwork in question.

These three professionals found all of the artists work amusing and lighthearted.

Tom Bartlett, the artist who created the offensive nipple picture is known for his low-brow works, they often centre around murder, politics and pedophilia. In respect for the tenants in the building I didn't hang any of Barlett's more provocative works, feeling that the works I featured demonstrated his style and subject matter without causing offence. I displayed works by Tom with full support of the management and most of the tenants.

I was wrong; but I'm not too worried about that. (Although this is just one persons opinion)

What I am concerned about though; is that the female nipple is now offensive. If this had been an image of a female nipple that was created to arouse would there still have been such offence caused? If this image had been pasted in a National Newspaper, or on the top shelf of a newsagents would it be ok? The female nipple is there for a purpose, to feed children and for sexual pleasure, should we be shaming any part of our anatomy? I don't think so because that is a slippery slope.

The female nude has a long history in art, there are thousands of artworks that depict the female nude, and for a variety of reasons. I don't think I need to go in to an art history lesson, just pop to the National Gallery and possibly check out Guerrilla Girls.

Although our tastes won't always align there are constructive ways to approach things and there are shitty ways. After being in the space for two days installing works, a conversation with the offended individual may have been nice; a conversation between curator, artist, and the single gentlemen offended would have been even better. It's within these conversations we can break down barriers and reach new understandings.

If we hid everything people may be offended by; the world would have nothing in in, we all have the ability to be offended by something. I personally am offended by men and boys that can't pull their trousers up, I don't want to see a strangers underwear when they're walking in front of me.

The female body should not cause offence. There is nothing offensive about the human body; is there? To say that the naked human form is offensive is a dangerous idea, it gives out all the wrong impressions. When we're all supposed to be moving forward, the argument is dated.

I want art to start conversations and I want art to push boundaries, which all of Tom's work does, and I want us to have the conversation instead of sending facebook messages to someone in the same building. Art has always caused controversy, and paintings have historically been banned for their depictions of the nude body. Maybe I am stupid but I thought we had moved past those opinions, I thought that the shame around the human form had been lifted to allow us to appreciate the body in all shapes and form.

The artist took his works away five minutes into the opening, as he didn't want to risk being censored, I can understand that. I can understand that the other artworks Tom creates are offensive. I cannot understand how a nipple is offensive.

As far as my first curated show went? A baptism of fire, and I can't wait to do it again.