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Tillsonburg Library - Tillsonburg Ontario

 

Censorship of sculptures at library irks artistic and gay community


Thursday, December 16, 2010
    
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News
By Michael Peeling
Updated December 16, 2010


An artist is outraged over the censorship of his work at the local library.

"What's going in Tillsonburg is kind of upsetting," said R. Bruce Flowers, a London-based artist whose sculptures of human intimacy are featured in the foyer of the Tillsonburg Public Library. "It has really affected the queer community in Tillsonburg." Flowers, a retired teacher and full-time sculptor born in Woodstock, said he has received numerous calls from people upset that his sculptures displayed in the library have been covered over with a cloth.

"This censorship is deeply distressing because of the negative message it sends out to the homosexual community," Flowers said. "With this kind of hostility in their own community, what chance do young people have of making their transition into a homosexual lifestyle valid?"

Flowers and one of the exhibit curators, Pat Gibson of Woodstock, pointed out independently that the curators - the team is rounded out by Patricia Deadman - went through the artist's body of work to deliberately choose "family friendly" pieces.
Gibson said arguably the work in the exhibit that draws the most attention is "obviously just two men embracing."

In a letter to the editor of the The Tillsonburg News, Flowers said it's sad that the sculpture of two men playing piggyback called "Joy" has been "eroticized" by people who have visited the library.

"This merely because the sculptor is a gay man who sculpts positive images of his community," he wrote.
Flowers said he would rather see the exhibit stay up with the cloth covering it, if that's what the library board of directors should choose.
"We're not moving this exhibit," Flowers said. "There's nothing offensive or pornographic about it. I think it would be a far more powerful statement to leave the cloth there if that's what they think."

Flowers said he hoped the controversy would "all blow over," but he is thankful the situation has started a dialogue about how homosexuality is portrayed in art.
As of Tuesday, there was a sign on the cloth stating "Feel free to view the display of sculpture (by artist R. Bruce Flowers) behind the curtain."
That afternoon the library board of directors met in the next room to hear a presentation about the exhibit from Gibson and Deadman. Flowers could not make it to Tillsonburg because of the severe weather in London.

"When we curated these works we thought we wouldn't offend anyone," Gibson said. "People who walked by seemed so happy with the sculptures."
Board chair Linda White said they were not calling the cloth "censorship" because it's a temporary measure until they decide what to do in the long run.
If the cloth stays up, Gibson and Deadman said they would need a letter of explanation from the library to submit to the Ontario Arts Council, which provided a grant for The Oxford County Art Project: Art in Public Spaces, the vehicle for Flowers' exhibit and several others.
"We would like to see the sheet removed," Deadman told the board members, "so the public can see it ... In a democratic society, we have the right to see what we want to see."

Deadman said they don't have the budget to move the exhibit, but they would like to find a way to have Flowers speak to those who would like to better understand his work and compile a reading list that would aid them as well.

Dennis Cutts, a Tillsonburg resident and actor, went before the board to tell them he is "personally confused why the library is entertaining a complaint like this."
In a country where same-sex unions are legal, Cutts said he doesn't see anything controversial about the sculptures at the library.
"Personally I feel this decision by the library tells me I shouldn't feel as though I'm part of this community as a gay person," Cutts said. "I feel this is bullying. It makes me feel afraid and uncomfortable."

The board didn't make a decision about the future of the exhibit during the meeting, but instead excused the members of the public at the meeting while they dealt with other matters in camera.

Suzanne Renken took a peak at the sculptures and said she didn't see what all the fuss is about.
"I guess some people don't believe in freedom of expression," she said.

Gibson is under the impression that the exhibit has been covered by library officials because of complaints from patrons of the library, some of whom based their complaint on a Dec. 1 article about the exhibit in this newspaper.  In a letter published on Dec. 9, Tillsonburg resident Greg Friesen said he found it "appalling that the person(s) responsible for hosting this exhibit would be so insensitive as to put something as controversial as homosexuality in a public library."
"Since when did a public library become a place to showcase any sort of sexuality?" he wrote. "When I go to the library with my children, I don't want to be seeing, let alone explaining homosexual intimacy to my children. If this was behind closed doors or in a spot which one had to deliberately go to view it (i.e. art gallery), I wouldn't be so irate. "This is a public place, paid for with my tax dollars and for that reason I call for the removal of this display. My family (along with many others that I know of) will not be entering the library until such a time as this display is removed." Father Matthew George of St. Mary's Parish wrote in to say he was alarmed by letters such as Friesen's and the "censorship" of the exhibit.

"How sad that people have decided that this art is something that needs to be censored," he wrote. "I'm guessing that the piece that elicits this strange response is the one called Joy. How doubly sad that something which to me seems to capture a moment of simple joy and shared humanity has been condemned as somehow advancing the homosexual agenda and not worthy of display in our library."

An informal survey by library staff of patrons who voiced their opinion of Flowers' exhibit showed 24 people approved of the display, while only one did not.
michael.peeling@sunmedia.ca

 

Censorship decision reached

December 16, 2010
The Tillsonburg Library board of directors has voted to drop the cloth covering R. Bruce Flowers's controversial sculptures.
Curator Pat Gibson told the Tillsonburg News she was contacted shortly after the board finished its meeting on Tuesday to tell her of the decision.
Gibson didn't know the vote tally, but said the exhibit was already back on display for the public.
Gibson said she is very pleased with the decision.

 

Readers On-line Comments

Letters To The Editor
December 8, 2010

Flowers fired up to show his art

Dear Editor,
I am writing this letter in response to last Wednesday's article about the sculptures depicting homosexual intimacy on display at the Tillsonburg library.
I find it appalling that the person(s) responsible for hosting this exhibit would be so insensitive as to put something as controversial as homosexuality in a public library. The display case in our public library can showcase a multitude of worthy topics - as it did for many decades (thanks Matt) - without bringing something that is going to be an offense to many people in our community.
Since when did a public library become a place to showcase any sort of sexuality? When I go to the library with my children, I don't want to be seeing, let alone explaining homosexual intimacy to my children. If this was behind closed doors or in a spot which one had to deliberately go to view it (i.e. art gallery), I wouldn't be so irate.

This is a public place, paid for with my tax dollars and for that reason I call for the removal of this display. My family (along with many others that I know of) will not be entering the library until such a time as this display is removed.

Greg Friesen
Tillsonburg

AdamKW

Mr. Friesen is afraid! He is afraid of having to explain the truth to his children that some people love and live with partners of the same-sex. He is so afraid that he'd rather deprive his family the educational, social and recreational benefits of the library that having to walk by a statue of two, caring adults. That is sad, for Mr. Friesen and his family! It's also sad and insulting for GLBT people in Tillsonburg to see such an innocuous symbol of themselves hidden to placate bigoted attitudes.

LillianSorko

THIS IS COMMUNIST TILLSONBURG, NOT ONLY ARE THE ****SEXUAL/LESBIAN/BI COMMUNITY TARGETED HER IN OUR TOWN BUT ALSO THE POVERTY STICKEN, ETHNIC COMMUNITY, AND ADDICTED.
Mr. Friesen " YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELF "

Cosmio

I am glad that Library has done the right thing and removed the cloth. Art is meant to be controversial and to open up discussions.
When I first read about this on change.org I thought that maybe it was a full on statues in a groping embrace. After seeing the image above I really wonder what Greg Friesen has to complain about. It is nothing more than a hug. Would he be this upset if it depicted a man and a woman? I think not.
I wonder if he complains about all the virtual heteorsex that is on tv? This is surely of more concern than an hug between two men.
If he's so concerned about what to tell his child he should be teaching him tolerance and that there are all sorts of different people in this world. However it is evident that his intolerance overshadows his ability to parent his child.
I hope that he's thankful that I am no longer located in the area as I would be getting everyone I know to walk down his street having a "hug-in". I wonder what his letter to the editor would be then

amanda1234

It DISGUSTS me that people are making a big deal about this! There is NOTHING ****sexual about this! It looks like 2 buddies wrestling!!! Maybe instead of being ashamed to take their children past this piece of art, people should teach their children about LOVE, FRIENDSHIP and TOLERANCE!

I pity those people parents who are SO ****PHOBIC as to turn something so playful and simple into something disgusting.

I ask you, if this were 2 boys, age 10 in this exact pose... would it offend? or would it be just 2 boys playing?

Becuase to me, all I see is 2 guys goofing around!

I too thought when reading about this, it was all on groping or spooning I actually LAUGHED out loud at how pathetic it is that this is even an ISSUE!!
People need to find better things to do with their time.

rg57

Ending the censorship was the right decision. Now, will this website do the same? What's wrong with the following words?
****sexual, sop****ric, ****genized milk, ****phobia, psyc****tor impairment
And of course: **** sapiens (that's you and me)

krscott

Dear Editor....I had the pleasure of viewing the small art exhibit in the Library entrance today. I applaud the Library Board for giving people the choice to view it by having hung a blanket with a sign inviting viewers to lift it, if they so choose (guessing after Mr. Friesen's comment in the paper last week). What a beautiful piece of art and in my opinion, did not scream "****sexuality" in any way. I hope the Board leaves it up long enough so I can bring my sons to view how "my tax dollars" are being spent.
Thank you


Letters To The Editor
Dec 16, 2010

"Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men."

Dear Editor,
"Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men."
The reality of that seasonal expression has been forgotten in the cloaking by a bed sheet of the recently installed sculpture exhibit in the foyer of the Tillsonburg Public Library.
The two experienced curators chose "Family Friendly" images after reviewing my extensive oeuvre back in July. I did not choose these works myself.
There was no hidden agenda.
How sad that "Joy," a sculpture of two men playing piggy back, has been eroticized. This merely because the sculptor is a gay man who sculpts positive images of his community. I affirm a resounding "Yes" to the local cleric who wrote in support of the display on Friday: "Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est" (Where charity and love are, God is there).
These are very much celebratory images and Canada has much to celebrate. Since 1995, sexual orientation constitutes a prohibited basis of discrimination under section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We've had same-sex marriage since 2005. These are life affirming images which reflect the new Canadian Reality and legal process where Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgendered/Queer communities stand integral and proudly as part of the Canadian Mosaic.
We make vital contributions to our communities. So,” Bah! Humbug!" to those who would denigrate us for the gift that God gave us.
R. Bruce Flowers MFA, SSC, SCA
Sculptors' Society of Canada, Society of Canadian Artists


Less Judging, More Reading

Dear Editor,
I happened to be downtown today with my little girl and just had to go see what all the commotion regarding the "controversial display of homosexuality at the library" was all about, according to Mr Friesen in the Dec. 8th edition. I nearly laughed out loud. In fact, I think I did. I'm expecting to see Lord knows what, and all I find is a skillfully sculpted artwork of two men's heads and one set of arms captured in an artistic, merry moment of camaraderie.  I cannot account for the skewed perception of others, but homosexuality appears irrelevant in this instance.

Homosexual people have been part of our society for thousands of years (in different times, and different mindsets), and they too contribute taxes for the library, and other public domains. Are you going to scour every book in the library to ensure its author and content meets with your moral code of conduct? Should the work of Oscar Wilde, Henry James, and countless others be discredited? Was Alexander the Great, not great? This black-or-white, wrong-or-right way of thinking is a taught mindset. And it's dangerous.

I have to ask: had it been two women's heads, would you be so deeply offended? Also, could you please explain to me, how I can explain to my daughter why there are posters, magazines, calendars, ads, media (etc, etc... not to mention book and magazine covers and content existing within the library, no doubt) full of practically naked, surgically reconstructed women portrayed as sex objects?

How do I tell my sweet, innocent little girl that this is how things are; and that one day there will be boys and men (old men) who won't see what lies in her heart or mind? Because she's a girl.

 Media has programmed society to simply accept this, and that seems to be okay. But whoa, stop the press - this is men we are talking about - there are two men's heads sharing a heart-felt moment.

Strangely enough, when faced with this "offensive" sculpture, my daughter did not ask, "Mommy, what are those two men doing? Ewww!" With her open, non-judgmental mind, she saw the expression of emotion. She saw what was inside.

"It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see." Henry Davis Thoreau

I say kudos to the artist, and to the new library manager (who by the way, was offering a free art event for children this weekend - had you bothered to look inside).

Carrie Anne Martin
Tillsonburg

 

RE: Mr. Friesen's letter
Dear Editor,

I am responding to Mr. Friesen's letter of December 8, 2010 regarding the figurative exhibit of renowned Canadian Artist Bruce Flowers.
I received an electronic copy of the display and see nothing controversial in it at all. Hands, faces and what looks like two men wrestling or as Mr. Friesen puts it, "depicting homosexual intimacy." There is nothing indicating that these two men are homosexual in the image what so ever.
As he says he's a father, I can only imaging how his sons don't get hugged. As men, our lives are filled with a lack of male intimacy, caring, and celebration of our lives. With sports we can beat the opponent but not hug. We can go to war but not cry with a grieving friend. This is the intimacy that Mr. Flower's exhibit celebrates, not the mere fear of sexual intimacy that Mr. Friesen is so fearful. In a tolerant society, not the one that Mr. Friesen wants to live in, we need to understand that the world is not moulded in our image but through the eyes of the many be it different religions, ethnicities, genders or sexualities. The world is fluid and in great need of a caring intimacy to replace our gluttony for greed and power at any and all expenses.

Public galleries and library's are indeed the place for this discussion. Libraries are not the place for quiet indoctrination into a particular belief but a place to explore many different beliefs in discovering one's self. And sometimes Mr. Friesen, children discover that they are homosexual, artists or religious, in such places. Are the residents of the beautiful village of Tillsonburg so fearful of the rest of the world that they can't explain to a child that it's alright for two men to embrace because they care for each other? Are Tillsonburg fathers denied the right to hug their boys? Do Tillsonburg sports teams only shake hands on scoring the winning goal? How is Mr. Flower's work any different, regardless of his sexuality?

Our world lacks intimacy period. Covering this innocuous display does a great disservice to the artist and his years of professional effort but also denies a community to see its self as caring and compassionate.

 Ben Benedict
Tillsonburg Article ID# 2891321

 

Canadian Library Hides Sculptures of Embracing Men

by Michael A. Jones December 15, 2010 12:08 PM (PT) Topics: International Gay Rights

If you stop on by the Tillsonburg Public Library in Ontario to check out a book, you'll notice a bunch of sculptures in the foyer covered with cloths. No, the library isn't trying to keep these pieces from collecting dust. They're censoring the sculptures because they depict same-sex affection, and they don't want patrons to have to view artwork that features two men embracing.
How unfortunate, given that libraries are supposed to be bastions of free expression, where the word censorship rarely comes into play. And the artist behind these sculptures? He's chiding the library for censoring something as innocent as two men hugging.
"This censorship is deeply distressing because of the negative message it sends out to the homosexual community," said R. Bruce Flowers, the artist behind the sculptures who lives in London, Ontario. "With this kind of hostility in their own community, what chance do young people have of making their transition into a homosexual lifestyle valid?"
What rubs Flowers the wrong way here, not to mention several local residents who have sent letters and advocated before library board members, is that the sculptures show nothing more than simple moments of affection between same-sex partners. None of them are overtly sexual in any capacity, and indeed, curators of the show went through Flowers' body of work to make sure that they were choosing family-friendly sculptures.
But it turns out that just the presence of two men embracing was enough for one community member to write his local newspaper, which in turn resulted in a big sheet being thrown over the exhibit. That community member was Greg Friesen, and his newspaper letter made it sound like the library was thrusting homosexuality into the face of every single Tillsonburg resident.
"Since when did a public library become a place to showcase any sort of sexuality?" Friesen wrote. "When I go to the library with my children, I don't want to be seeing, let alone explaining homosexual intimacy to my children."
Wonder if Friesen has any pull with the Smithsonian, too, given their penchant for censoring LGBT artwork. But I digress...
So all of a sudden, just the presence of two men embracing has become akin to the type of "homosexual intimacy" that is inappropriate for children? And this, in a country that might be one of the most progressive on the planet, at least in terms of LGBT rights?
That has local resident Dennis Cutts upset. He told library staff that covering up these sculptures, and feeding into the ideology that two men embracing is somehow inappropriate, only sends a message that LGBT people are less than, and something to hide.
"Personally I feel this decision by the library tells me I shouldn't feel as though I'm part of this community as a gay person," Cutts said. "I feel this is bullying. It makes me feel afraid and uncomfortable."
Yup. Every time a piece of artwork is censored simply for having ties to the LGBT community, that's exactly the message that's sent, even if it's not intended. And it's not acceptable. Parents like Friesen may not enjoy the presence of same-sex couples in their neighborhood, and they may not want their children to learn about the existence of LGBT people. And that's how they can run their families if they so choose.
But public facilities in Tillsonburg or elsewhere in Ontario should know better. Send the library a message that censoring artwork for showing embracing same-sex couples is over the top, and does a disservice to the spirit of free expression that libraries are supposed to harness.
Photo credit: Tillsonburg, Canada

Michael Jones is a Change.org Editor. He has worked in the field of human rights communications for a decade, most recently for Harvard Law School.

 

Sources

Tillsonburg Public Library: Don't Censor Gay Art

Full story: Tillsonburg Independent News
An artist is outraged over the censorship of his work at the local library. "What's going in Tillsonburg is kind of upsetting," said R. Bruce Flowers, a London-based artist whose sculptures of human intimacy are featured in the foyer of the Tillsonburg Public Library.

 

 
 

 

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