Censorship Snuffs Art Bienniale in South of France

Mayor's office calls erotic painting and kinetic birthing sculpture "pornographic."

Detail of Marie Morel, L'Amour. Courtesy the artist.

Demin, Machine à Accoucher (2012).
Courtesy the artist, via YouTube.

Censorship strikes again.

The 13th edition of the Festival International d’Art Singulier in the city of Aubagne in the South of France has been called off by its organizers, and its director has stepped down, after the municipality tried to censor two works slated to be exhibited. The offending works, dubbed “pornographic” by the mayor’s office, are Marie Morel‘s large-scale erotic painting L’Amour and a kinetic sculpture of a woman giving birth—complete with a fountain of red-tinged water—by the artist Demin.

According to the office of the mayor of Aubagne, Gérard Gazay, the festival was set to continue minus the two offending works. However, the municipality is characterizing the cancellation as a political ploy on the part of the artists—the city is a longtime Communist stronghold, and the newly elected mayor is a member of the right-leaning Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, or UMP) party.

“The festival is open to all, it takes place in July during a period of tourism when people come with the families,” the director for mayor Gazay’s cabinet told Le Figaro. “Kids can come to the festival, there is no age limit. . . . Danielle Jacqui, the director of the festival for 12 editions, was pushed to resign by the artists. They want to give a political dimension to this affair, to become better known and generate media buzz. They want to create tension with a UMP mayor who has been elected after 49 years of Communism. They are trying to show that the right doesn’t understand anything about culture.”

Both artists have commented on the censorship. Demin, for his part, takes issue not only with the censorship and the festival’s cancellation, but also with the manner in which the whole fiasco has been portrayed by the mayor’s office.


Detail of Marie Morel, L’Amour.
Courtesy the artist.

“As far as our attempt to create ‘media buzz,’ I believe the buzz is a consequence of a thoughtless choice by the municipality of Aubagne,” Demin writes. “This buzz is the inherent consequence of taking a position undoubtedly based on a poor political strategy. It would be more desirable for the mayor to finally take some responsibility, and if he’s not able to do so, that he step down. The municipal government claims that Danielle Jacqui was pushed to quit by the artists; that information is completely false (in fact, those who know her know that nobody could push her to do anything she didn’t want to).”

Morel characterizes this latest scandal as part of a growing trend toward excessive caution around erotic art.

“Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that works of erotic art are more and more frequently censored,” Morel writes on her website. “The organizers are often afraid: Because of our society’s excessive vigilance, we’re reverting to a world in which our freedoms are increasingly curtailed.”

The organizers of the festival told Le Figaro that they will move the exhibition to a different city for future editions, though they have not selected a new location.

Watch footage of Demin’s kinetic sculpture Machine à Accoucher (Birthing Machine) (2012):

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