Dear Aylesbury High School,
Despite the fact you claim not to be censoring my A-level artwork by taking it down from display, this is in fact exactly what you have done (please find the definition of ‘censor’ below) by removing three items of underwear that form part of my Final Piece .
1. examine officially and suppress unacceptable parts
However, firstly, I would like to thank you for doing this, as by removing components of my work that are deemed, “too sexual and inappropriate”, you have only served to reinforce the message of the piece; that women, including their underwear, are sexualised by society and that they need to cover up ‘appropriately’ in order to be treated with the same respect as their male counterparts.
Secondly, I would like to highlight some flaws in the reasoning behind the censorship of my artwork.
- I was asked, “How would you react if Year Sevens started to produce work similar to yours?”. ***Side Note: If the school was more invested in and supportive of creative subjects, they would know Year Seven Art lessons follow a curriculum that doesn’t include Portraiture, as my work does, and that doesn’t involve a 15-hour-exam or requirement to produce a piece of this scale.*** My reaction to this question was that 11 and 12 year old girls using art as a platform to explore and comment on issues relevant to them is empowering and should be encouraged, not shunned and censored. Additionally, if Year Seven students at AHS felt the need to create artwork similar to mine and to comment on the sexualisation of young girls, the problem would clearly be much bigger than I had originally thought and my reaction would be to take more action to tackle this issue. Furthermore, to think that the only way younger students are going to be exposed to artwork “similar to” mine is through an exhibition at school is naive considering their access to artwork on the internet, which is where I found inspiration for my project, and their exposure to sexualised depictions of the female body in the media and in advertising.
- I was told that two Year Sevens had been asked what they thought “the message of [my] piece was” to which they answered that they thought it might be telling girls that they needed to cover up their bodies more. Based on the answers of two Year Sevens the work was then taken down to, “avoid misinterpretation”, as this was clearly not the message behind my work. The first issue I would like to highlight here is that to be informed by a Maths teacher the school were using a sample of two students from the same year group as the basis for taking my work down, raises concerns that they don’t know what a representative sample is when they are supposed to be teaching this to students for their impending exams. Secondly, if my work was taken down for not wanting girls to think they have to cover up and hide their bodies, there lies huge hypocrisy in this argument as the school’s dress code sets out rules as to how much girls must cover their bodies, perpetuating societal attitudes that girls will not be taken seriously in a ‘professional environment’ unless their bodies are concealed and that how they dress is more important than their education. Lastly, if the first line of action when a student’s artwork is interpreted differently to the creator’s intentions is to take it down, you may as well take the whole A-Level exhibition down as art is subjective and everyone interprets it differently. In addition to this, censoring controversial artwork achieves nothing and is an oversight. A better alternative to “avoid misinterpretation” would be to encourage discussion of the piece and to ensure the correct message is understood.
If my work will not be shown at Aylesbury High School, I will continue to share it through less short-sighted institutions as I have done before at the Ashmolean Museum and Cambridge University.
As an all-girls school, it is both a shame and a failure that students are not encouraged to speak out more on their position in, and treatment by society, and I hope going forward significant changes are made to better “Prepare, Challenge and Inspire” girls for the incredible futures they will undoubtedly achieve, as currently censorship of students’ artwork is failing to meet any of the school’s three aims.