Painting pulled from exhibition because of “disgusting” pubic hair

The revealing Portrait of Ms. Ruby May, Standing lasted all of three days in London's Mall Galleries before it was taken down for being “too pornographic and disgusting.”

The revealing Portrait of Ms. Ruby May, Standing lasted all of three days in London's Mall Galleries before it was taken down for being “too pornographic and disgusting.”

This article first appeared on Vocativ.

When artist Leena McCall got the phone call she was “pretty pissed off.” On the other end of the line was a representative from the Society of Women Artists who had rung to inform her that her painting had just been pulled from their group show at London’s Mall Galleries for being “too pornographic and disgusting.”

The work in question, Portrait of Ms. Ruby May, Standing, is an oil painting of the artist’s friend. In it, May, dressed in a fur-trimmed vest and pants, unbuttoned to reveal a strip of pubic hair, smokes a pipe while looking directly at the viewer.

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The gallery, run by the Federation of British Artists, claims to have received complaints about the painting and “as an educational arts charity, the Federation has a responsibility to its Trustees and to the children and vulnerable adults who use its Galleries and Learning Centre.” They didn’t offer an explicit explanation as to why McCall’s portrait was deemed pornographic, but the pubic hair seems to be a sticking point. The fact that it was replaced by another female nude leads McCall to believe that there’s even more behind the censoring of her work.

“I genuinely think it’s because Ruby meets your gaze. She’s not a shy, timid woman; it’s not pornography in the sense of ‘Here I am, come and get me!’ It’s very much an equal gaze and that was the whole purpose of the painting,” she tells Vocativ. “We had a lot of different poses and tried a lot of different things and what I liked about this one is that she’s your equal, she’s there.”

 

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(Pictured above: Artist Leena McCall)

 

McCall was invited to submit another piece but declined the offer (“I do have some still lifes with one or two sex toys in them,” she jokes). She says doing so would be tantamount to agreeing that the original painting was indecent. Instead, she’s launched a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #eroticcensorship, and is encouraging people to discuss the work and the ensuing controversy.

“The whole point of the piece is what Ruby May has to say about her sexuality. I’m trying to get people talking about it,” she says. “So by removing that artwork you’re effectively removing the opportunity for people to look at it and discuss it. But with a Twitter hashtag campaign, I thought at least we can try and discuss the topic in a different forum.”

People have rallied behind McCall on Twitter, using the hashtag #eroticcensorship

Warmed by the generous response from strangers who are rallying behind her work and condemning the actions of Mall Galleries, McCall is planning an open studio event so people can view the portrait and engage in discussion. She also has tentative plans to launch her own group show, which will include artists whose work explores female sexuality and eroticism.

“I’m actually really rather happy that this has happened because it’s proved to me, in terms of the artwork and the topics I’m trying to address through it, that there is a debate to be had,” she says. “It obviously does trigger responses from people. And I’m really interested to see where that debate goes.”

Vocativ is a leading US-based website that specialises in deep web reporting. The award-winning site publishes trending worldwide stories and documentary-style videos for broadcast online and on television.


47 comments

  • Wow a woman portrayed with pubic hair? how un-natural in this Brazilian obsessed world. Its a great painting pity the world wont get a chance to see a talented artists work, the question must be asked whether if she was sans hair would the painting still be on show?

    Commenter
    anon
    Date and time
    July 09, 2014, 9:48AM
    • The world can see the art. It hasn't been locked away in a vault. We're all looking at it now as a matter of fact. I think they were just just taking the needs of everyone who uses the center into consideration, such as children. People can still view the artwork. It's ridiculous to call the art pornographic or disgusting, but it's not censorship.

      Commenter
      Kate
      Date and time
      July 09, 2014, 3:01PM
    • Anon - this has nothing to do with pubic hair, and more to do with the association between pubic hair and genitals. People think that because you can see someone's pubic hair, you must be able to see their genitals.

      Commenter
      ST
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 10, 2014, 8:17AM
    • The new puritanism dresses ignorance and self righteouness as public responsability.
      Such people have existed throughout history, such intellectually dishonest opinions should have no place in enlightened discourse.

      Commenter
      G Sacramento
      Date and time
      July 10, 2014, 8:30AM
  • I'm really struggling to see the problem with this... it's a woman with a couple tatts and a bit of public hair on show. Not exactly my definition of "pornographic and disgusting", but I suppose British sensibilities are easily ruffled.

    Commenter
    Dan
    Date and time
    July 09, 2014, 9:49AM
    • Way to go, Leena McCall! All power to you and your art.

      To label this painting pornographic and disgusting is either politics (it was replaced by another female nude??), or just plain stupid. Or both.

      Commenter
      Jungle Jim
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      July 09, 2014, 9:57AM
      • Wow! An 'artist' who can actually draw!

        Commenter
        Paul
        Location
        Toowong
        Date and time
        July 09, 2014, 10:23AM
        • The only bit I find disgusting is this: "dressed in a FUR (my caps) trimmed vest". I thought decent humans had evolved beyond this.

          Commenter
          Jeremy
          Location
          Sydney
          Date and time
          July 09, 2014, 10:46AM
          • Yeah, that was a bit of a worry, but I'm much more offended by the pipe. Surely the portrait would have worked without advertising tobacco...

            Commenter
            Phil
            Location
            Sydney
            Date and time
            July 09, 2014, 11:49AM
          • Phil. Fair point but the woman has a choice about smoking. The animal didn't have a choice about being killed.

            Commenter
            Jeremy
            Location
            Sydney
            Date and time
            July 09, 2014, 1:53PM

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