MFA Boston Is the Latest Museum Driven Crazy by Instagram Censorship

Nude images from its Imogen Cunningham exhibition were taken down from the image-sharing app.

Imogen Cunningham, The Unmade Bed (1957) ©1957/2016 The Imogen Cunningham Trust. Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts is stuck in a stalemate with Instagram after photos from its latest exhibition—a survey of decorous abstracted nudes by Imogen Cunningham—were censored by the image-sharing app, and the museum’s pleas to have its artwork allowed on social media have gone unheard.

“We [contacted both Facebook and Instagram] and said we’re a verified fine arts museum, and we wanted to have a discussion with Facebook and Instagram about their community standards,” MFA public relations director Karen Frascona told the Boston Globe. “We didn’t really get a response.”

The posts in question are pictures of artworks from “Imogen Cunningham: In Focus.” Some of her photographs feature modernist takes on the nude body, while a photograph by Judy Dater features Cunningham with a naked female model.

Imogen Cunningham, Sunbath (Alta on the Beach) ©1925/2011 The Imogen Cunningham Trust. Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

“These images are so subtle and beautiful and so abstract,”said MFA photography curator Karen Haas. “They’re all about shapes—about turning the body into something that’s really confounding and difficult even to read as a body.”

Facebook and Instagram maintain that their nudity restrictions are intended to prevent uncomfortable experiences for all their users.

Instagram’s community guidelines read, “We know that there are times when people might want to share nude images that are artistic or creative in nature, but for a variety of reasons, we don’t allow nudity on Instagram.”

While said guidelines state that “nudity in photos of paintings and sculptures is OK,” artworks depicting nudity have been banned in the past, and there is no clause about photographic artworks.

“We’re hoping to gather a consensus and then approach Facebook and Instagram about incorporating photography into their exceptions,” Frascona said.

“That we’re still fighting the fight for photography to be a work of art is [incredible],” Haas added.

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