ACT OF CENSORSHIP OR MATTER OF TASTE?
ARTIST’S WORK PULLED FROM STATE FAIR
By Ray Long
Tribune Staff Writer
August 20, 2000
SPRINGFIELD — When Gov. George Ryan went to Cuba, he hoped that exposing Cuban people to the American way of doing things would demonstrate the value of freedom.
But at the Illinois State Fair, the freedom of expression clashed with family values as a painting in an exhibit celebrating Ryan’s historic trip to Cuba last year was kept off display.
The action has sparked a cry of censorship from the artist–though state officials say it was simply a matter of good taste. A spokesman with the state Department of Agriculture, which oversees the fair, said the agency decided to pull the painting because it was not conducive to the family-oriented fair.
The painting depicted one nude woman descending a staircase with her arms cradled as if she were carrying a baby and a second naked woman climbing the stairs slightly ahead of a baby that is apparently being pulled up the stairs by its umbilical cord. Artist Michele Tuohey, 34, of Oak Park, said the 77-inch-by-77-inch painting represented her own entrance into motherhood.
The symbol of the fetus is a symbol of me giving birth to myself, Tuohey said. She named the painting Butterfly.
The painting was initially to be in the display but was removed after it was spotted by officials with the Department of Agriculture, a spokesman said.
Its ironic to me that people from Cuba came to the United States to be able to express themselves through their artwork and here in the U.S. Iam being told that I can express myself, said Tuohey, a recent law school graduate whose mother is Cuban. The exhibits curator, Oscar Martinez, is married to Tuohey and also maintained that refusing to use the painting is inappropriate.
The removal of the painting took place just before Cuban art expert Raquel Yossiffon was brought to the fair to lecture about the exhibit, which featured several Cuban artists who suffered humiliation and censorship in a nation ruled for four decades by dictator Fidel Castro.
I found it insulting to the artist, said Yossiffon, who splits her time between New York and Santa Fe.
At the fair Friday, Ryan said he did not make the decision to remove the painting.
From what I know, it was in bad taste, from what I heard about it, Ryan said.It know who made the decision to take it off. But it probably was not in good taste for young people at the fair.
I don’t think it was censorship so much as that thing was just kind of bad taste for the fair, Ryan said.It might be all right in an art institute–someplace where adults go. But this is where families and kids go. Mike Oquendo, whose company was contracted to do the cultural exhibit, felt caught in the middle.
Nobody told me, `Don’t put it up, Oquendo said. He said state officials basically said, We feel that this may be inappropriate for this show.
Agriculture Department spokesman John Herath said the agency’s marketing officials first raised concerns about the painting, asked Herath to review it and then state Agriculture Director Joe Hampton made the final decision. We pulled it, Herath said.
Hampton said the fair is a family event, and there were some questions how that fit in with a family event.
Herath said he had concerns about the umbilical cord running between one woman’s legs, saying it was pretty graphic.
Families with small kids could have brought up some questions that they may not have been ready to answer or really want to answer at days at the fair.