Society for Women Artists’ Show Censored Over “Pornographic” Painting

Leena McCall, Portrait of Ms Ruby May, Standing Photo via Art Daily

A painting by London- and Berlin-based artist Leena McCall has been removed from London’s Mall Gallery on the grounds that it is “too pornographic and disgusting,” according to Artdaily. The painting, Portrait of Ms Ruby May, Standing, features a young woman staring at the viewer suggestively, dressed in a vest and culottes pulled down to partially expose her vagina. While the piece is undoubtedly provocative, in the grand scheme of the contemporary art world, it’s really pretty tame in terms of explicit, graphic sexuality. (What would the censorious gallery make of Robert Mapplethorpe, one wonders?)

“My work deals with female sexual and erotic identity,” McCall said in response to the censorship. “The fact that the gallery has deemed the work inappropriate and seen it necessary to have it removed from public display underlines the precise issue I am trying to address: how women choose to express their sexual identity beyond the male gaze.”

McCall added that throughout art history, women’s sexuality is consistently portrayed as something for and controlled by men, and she seeks to challenge that paradigm. Her choice to work in oil paint is a deliberate attempt to co-opt the traditional language of portraiture to behave in a way that’s less patriarchal.

The work was selected to hang in the gallery by the Society for Women Artists (SWA) for their 153rd annual exhibition. Two days after a charity event and private viewing of the show, the piece was removed. The gallery has yet to comment on the circumstances surrounding the removal.

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