An exhibition at one of America’s most famous art museums has been censored on social media because it contains nude photography.
Images from “Imogen Cunningham: In Focus” at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts posted by visitors are being routinely scrubbed from Instagram and Facebook.
Cunningham is a major figure in 20th-century photography, whose work has been part of major exhibitions for almost 100 years.
The offending photos include this picture of Cunningham, then in her 90s, standing next to a nude model in a forest:
Another, posted here on the MFA’s website, shows one nipple.
Curators say that the offending images are obviously art, so should be exempt from content restrictions.
They also complain that photography is being treated unfairly in comparison with painting and sculpture, where nudity is usually permitted (though not always).
In an interview with The Boston Globe, MFA photography curator Karen Haas said: “I was stunned. These images are so subtle and beautiful and so abstract. They’re all about shapes — about turning the body into something that’s really confounding and difficult even to read as a body.”
Other officials said that the MFA, and other major museums, have repeatedly asked Facebook for exceptions to be made for verified institutions – but have been roundly ignored.
Facebook has made a fool of itself censoring art before, as Heat Street has reported.
In January, the network prompted outrage after deciding that a Renaissance sculpture on public display in an Italian town was too sexually explicit for display.
It also deleted posts showing the famous “napalm girl” image from the Vietnam war, on the basis that the agonized girl shown in the picture was naked. They later backed down and apologized.
While Facebook is clearly expending effort making sure artsy nudity is kept off its network, it has so far failed to do the same for live broadcasts of rape and suicide, which continue to proliferate.
A spokesman for the network would not comment on the Cunningham exhibition specifically, but observed that it is “not always easy to find the right balance”.
He said he planned to relax community standards in Western countries to stop art and other legitimate content getting caught in the net.
However, many observed that the inevitable consequence of that would be banning more things in repressive countries – where Facebook is already complicit in enforcing local laws which prohibit criticism of Islam or political dissent.