An art venue in Calgary, Canada is under fire for asking an artist to remove a poster listing the names of trans murder victims.
The venue, Arts Commons, is being accused of censoring trans voices. The poster, by artist Beck Gilmer-Osborne, was part of a public art exhibit. The exhibit was meant to draw attention to the issues trans people face. Gilmer-Osborne is a non-binary artist from Montreal.
The installation consisted of the poster and three TV screens. The three-screen video piece, titled A Thousand Cuts, was to run through 28 September. Arts Commons claimed they received complaints about nudity and crass language on the TV screens. While there is some swearing in the video clips, as well as an image of a woman wearing a prosthetic penis, none of this is part of the poster.
In a letter to the gallery dated 29 August, Art Commons demanded the video installation be removed.
‘I found that kind of strange because for starters there’s not really that much nudity or swearing in the piece,’ said Gilmer-Osborne. ‘I did not feel comfortable with changing the piece … so it got taken down.’
A Thousand Cuts
A Thousand Cuts is comprised of clips from TV shows and movies where trans characters are played by cis actors. It can be viewed online here.
The gallery offered Gilmer-Osborne a private space to exhibit their work so that it’s no longer in the public eye.
In a meeting on Tuesday, 11 September, The New Gallery (a space owned by Arts Commons) was told they had two days to remove the remaining part of installation from their window.
The New Gallery’s response
‘I was pretty shocked,’ The New Gallery’s director Su Ying Strang told CBC News.
‘The fact that they wanted to take away the remaining component, the censorship in general, I don’t think is fair. But at the end of the day, the rest of the work … a poster of names commemorating these individuals. There’s no cursing, there’s no nudity. I don’t understand.’
The artist’s response
Gilmer-Osborne penned an open letter to viewers and the gallery.
‘It has been brought to my attention that there have been several complaints against my video work due to “cursing and nudity.” Rather than re-edit and censor my work to comfort certain viewers who are offended by the very banal acts of swearing and non-sexual nudity, I have decided to remove the piece from the space entirely,’ Gilmer-Osborne wrote.
‘It is ironic that a video compilation that highlights the far-too-common act of cisgender actors being permitted and feeling entitled to play trans characters in film and television is too offensive when looked at through a critical/trans lens. The entire work is meant to be offensive. But several individuals have chosen to fixate on cursing and one brief scene of nudity.’
‘If you are cisgender and you were offended by this work: think about why you were offended. Are you trying to protect your children from what you perceive to be vulgar representations of bodies? Are you comfortable with the violence that is perpetuated against trans people, but offended by five or six swear words (that your children have already heard) and a flaccid penis? If you cannot accept seeing a penis on a woman in a movie (even though the actor is a cisgender woman with a prosthetic), think about the other types of transphobia you might perpetuate in your daily routines. To me, it seems you are afraid of the questions this video will raise in the minds of your children, or in yourself.’
Calling out Arts Commons
‘To Arts Commons: I implore you to deal with complaints against challenging artwork (especially when the content deals with marginalized communities and bodies) in a more constructive way, rather than shutting down a conversation before it can begin. Trans people are still being murdered at a seriously alarming rate. Misrepresentation will continue to happen in mainstream media. We will try to take back our image and tell our own stories. Cisgender people will keep being offended, and we will keep fighting.’