Art Wars: When is Art ‘Porn’ & when is it too “obscene” to be seen?

cover photograph by Mathilde Grafström; cover art by Aramie Louisville Vas

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Ever since the dawn of time nudity has been a pole attraction for artists from the early eroticism of Francisco De Goya’s ‘Nude Maja,’ to the sexualised figurative work of John Currin. But despite media saturation of carnal imagery, it seems nudity is still taboo for some Western audiences.

Mathilde Grafström is a Danish photographer who takes provocative nude pics of mainly young women. Her photo series “Female Beauty” showcasing naked women was closed down by Danish Police who denied her permission to display the photos in Denmark’s Nytorv Square. Grafström states that the images were deemed to be ‘indecent,’ by the Danish Police and that this was a ‘suppression’ of her ‘art.’

Gonzo Today asks Grafström if it’s really art, or just another example of t and a in our all too familiar misogynistic culture?

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Saira Viola
Why do you think people are so scared of nudity? After all Denmark is a progressive secular country and everyone knows about the sauna and steam traditions of Nordic culture. Why do you think the age-old taboo of nudity has resurfaced in Danish society?
Mathilde Grafström
It seems that the neo puritanism is spreading, and we see it everywhere. It’s only getting worse every day and I see it in many places, like the local beaches where today we are giving people who want to bathe naked in the sea, closed areas. Maybe it should be the other way around, because I really don’t see any problems in being naked together, as long as we are appropriate (which also goes for dressed people!) but for some reason, people are being offended by nakedness these days, and some are perceiving nakedness as something that is “just too much” or even dirty or damaging for kids to look at, when actually it is the one who judges nakedness, in a sleazy way who is ‘dirty’, in his or her way of thinking and how they perceive nudity.

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S.V.
How do you respond to critics who suggest that your photo exhibition is just titillation and you are simply exploiting women’s sexuality?
M.G
I agree totally. I don’t know anything about art, since I am a very stupid and uneducated girl from Jutland (the countryside) in Denmark and I have no idea about these intelligent matters. In the Northern part of rural Denmark where I come from no one really discusses difficult matters like sexuality and art. The truth is that, I know almost nothing about art, I am just a simple girl with a camera, who enjoys photographing women naked, in nature, and for some reason (that I don’t understand) the media are choosing to show my pictures everywhere and debate them. I am not being sarcastic when I say, that I am stupid and don’t know what is happening around me. I often feel like I have been dropped down from the sky into some weird hell, where people are acting out a lot of emotions around my art and having these difficult, intellectual discussions which I can hardly comprehend. So I stick to what I DO know and am good at: photographing women. I think I know what beauty is, and therefore I try to capture it on camera. Sometimes I’m lucky to make some good pictures and of course I am happy that the pictures are being shared all over the world, this makes it so much more fun to be an artist. And I would like all women to see, that they are so much more beautiful than they think. And maybe some women will understand this, when they see and read about my pictures in the media. I hope so.

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S.V.
How then, do you believe your art is empowering women if at all. Can you explain your artistic thought process?
M.G.
I think all women need to feel beautiful, and this is always an empowerment. See if you can find any honest female, who doesn’t want to feel beautiful! It’s a natural female desire. As I understand it, beauty comes from within and if we really own our true beauty, we let it shine outwards through our flesh and bones and everyone will see it and admire it, or out of jealousy HATE it!

I realized, through my own process and self discovery, finding my own beauty, that most women think they are flawed, boring, ugly or even disgusting and this is also what we show to others – and people will agree if they dare to be honest, because we are manifesting what we believe in! If you think you are boring – you are boring ect. So this is an evil circle. What I would like us to be conscious about, is our inner beauty so we can change the outer negative perception, because it is not true and it makes a lot of women unhappy with their bodies.

S.V .
Do you believe that the state / police should regulate art in any way – where do you draw the line between what is art and what is perceived to be ‘offensive’?
M.G.
I think that it is a good idea to regulate what will be shown on the public streets, so that we don’t have people who abuse the public space by showing something that is not art, but only done to get attention and make money.

 

mathildeshowExhibition by Mathilde

S.V .
But some might say that’s exactly what you’ve done: monetized nudity for banner headlines?
M.G.
What I do is, I share my experiences with what I find askew in society with the press, and cultural trends I find wrong in the society that can maybe be changed: like for instance the women’s negative perception of themselves and the police’s moral judgements of natural nude bodies and this censorship of art in Denmark. The Danish politicians are now speaking about this censor case to the press, and maybe soon we will have new rules for more artistic freedom and less hypocrisy.

S.V.
How did you feel when your art show was shut down, your art censored and your exhibition pulled from the streets?
M.G
I was very angry, hurt, upset, and disappointed because I couldn’t believe that nudity in commercials was allowed, nudity in films is allowed and when nudity in art on a street was not permitted, I didn’t understand. So I decided to share this double standard, hypocritical censorship with the press.

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S.V.
How did the women in the photographs feel?
M.G.
After the story about the police censoring my exhibition went to the press, I was comforted by the fact that a lot of women came to me to be photographed, because they didn’t feel that it was right that natural nudity was not ‘decent,’ enough to show. Many support my work, agree with me and can not understand how the police can be so hypocritical. I refused to sit back and let things be, so I complained about it and a few days ago I received an answer where now the police say that the pictures are “on the border” of being illegal.

 
S.V.
Yes, nudity and the controversy surrounding nude art seems to operate in shades of grey. Why do you think the police changed their position?
M.G.
I think, the police changed their position because of media interest and other pressure, and I will soon apply for the exhibition again.

S.V.
So, how do you think you can challenge this wave of neo puritanism in art or is it too entrenched in neo conservative ideals?
M.G.
There is nothing to do but to fight against it, and if artists are not doing it, who will?

 

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Click for Mathilde’s stellar website

 

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