Censorship and the arts

The National Gallery’s discussion series continues with a probe into the delicate world of censorship and the arts in Cayman. Business Editor, Lindsey Turnbull sat in on the discussion first aired on Radio Cayman at the end of last year and reports. First in a series.

In a bid to get these islands thinking about the development of the arts, the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands has produced a series of discussion groups focusing on a wide range of topics within the field. Late last year local artist Wray Banker, art lecturer Eme Paschalides and National Gallery Deputy Director Natalie Coleman joined Dwayne Ebanks on his Talk Today live radio chat show to examine the issue of censorship.

DE: Artists here have lots of exposure to their works and therefore have the opportunity to extend social boundaries with their work. But is it censored?

NC: Throughout history art has always been subjected to censorship. I think what we have to examine is where the boundaries lie here in Cayman. Different societies have different views on the issue. I believe that Cayman is open to provocative work but we have to decide as to who makes the decision as to what is viewed and what isn’t. At the end of the day I believe it should be left up to the individual to decide.

DE: You can visit the library here and find books with words and phrases that might be banned here if they were published in other formats (such as certain magazines). However if these words are written by acceptable authors they are OK.

NC: Yes, it’s all about a time and a place. Authors can be evocative and provocative as can other forms of art such as sculpture. They can be described as acceptable or pornographic, depending on society’s view. Looking back in history, French impressionists were initially banned and excluded from public exhibition. Now the movement is one of the most popular forms of art. Changes occur as society matures.

DE: In Cayman, who do you think should decide on censorship? Is it really up to the individual? Presumably in a parent/child situation, it’s up to the parent to decide?

NC: I think we need to be careful here to ensure that children are protected. But I also think we need to teach them about the pros and cons rather than simply making it unavailable.

WB: Theoretically we don’t censor but I find myself censoring my work as I go along. While I studied art in Cuba we worked through a portfolio that covered the full spectrum of subject matter, from homo-erotic art to art specifically for children. I think you just need to know who your audience is. We all self-censor whether we realise it or not, but there needs to be a defined yardstick in our society which measures what is acceptable.

EP: I agree that the first step in censorship is taken by the artist themselves. I believe when an artist says less they actually say more. Censorship and art have had a difficult partnership throughout history, but really, who is shocked today? I am amazed that anyone is still shocked in this day and age, when just about everything has been explored.

NC: At the National Gallery we deal with contemporary material and we take a modern approach. Rather than exclude work based upon religious, ethical or racial subject matter we make the pubic aware. For example, we have clear notification if there are certain pieces on display at one of our exhibitions where we feel a child should be accompanied by an adult when viewing the piece. We prefer to give the public the choice rather than simply censor.

EP: If we look at history we see that certain collections were for private viewing only. In the 18th Century, for example, Gustave Corbet’s work was considered pornographic and quite scandalous when it hit Paris, so it was only viewed privately and not open to the public.

NC: But censorship does not involve works of art of just a pornographic or sexual nature. There are racial, ethical, social, religious and moral implications as well. We believe artists have a right to express their religious beliefs and so on against others through art.

More on this fascinating subject next month.



Wray Banker: I find myself censoring my work as I go along