Facebook Censors New Media Art Festival Over Nude Image

Shu Lea Cheang performing UKI. Photo: Roc’o Campa–a Mora.

Canada’s foremost new media art festival has run afoul of Facebook. Sight + Sound, the Montreal-based digital art festival whose sixth edition opened this week, had its Facebook profile blocked by the censorious social network after two photographs used to promote a performance by Paris-based artist Shu Lea Cheang elicited three complaints from users. The offending photos, according to Facebook, were flagged as “abusive content.” One of the images, seen above, shows Cheang nude and standing amid a landscape of trashed computers in a performance of her piece UKI.

The irony of the situation was not lost on the organizers of Sight + Sound, whose current edition is titled “Science Faction” and deals with cyborg figures and the increased blending of human bodies and machines. But Cheang’s body apparently proved incompatible with enough Facebook users for the festival’s profile to be blocked for three days.

“We are truly sorry to see that one of art’s most important objectives, that is to raise questions and, perhaps, from time to time, make things uneasy for the public, is not quite as evident to all as we might have hoped,” the festival’s organizers said in a statement. “What better way to illustrate the paradoxes of this world, in which means of communication and free expression are just as powerful and open, as they are fragile and so easily misused for, ostensibly, doubtful purposes? Might we not, at this point, bring attention to the fact that our approach towards digital art is, fittingly, constructive, as it is critical and question raising?”

This isn’t Facebook’s first censorship blunder. It has made a habit of removing images of nude artworks—Gustave Courbet’s The Origin of the World is a frequent offender—and blocking entire museums’ accounts, from the Centre Pompidou to the New York Academy of Art.

In spite of the hiccup in the festival’s online promotion campaign, Cheang’s performance of UKI is set to take place tonight, May 22, at the Université du Québec à Montréal’s media school. The Sight + Sound festival continues through May 25.

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