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Cut & Paste: What constitutes censorship in art — and how it affects artists and the community

This file photo of the painting "Exasperation" by local artist Fabio Rodriguez depicts people in his home of the Domincan Republic desperate for essentials like food and water. It was cut from an art exhibition for being potentially disturbing.
Provided | Fabio Rodriguez
"Exasperation" by local artist Fabio Rodriguez depicts people in his home of the Domincan Republic desperate for essentials. Officials at St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley cut the work from an exhibition, calling it potentially disturbing.

St. Louis-area artist Fabio Rodriguez was devastated when a very personal piece of his work was removed from an exhibition. But did that action rise to the level of censorship?

The idea of reacting to public outcry against a work of art captured the conversation in St. Louis last fall after community advocates demanded that  the Contemporary Art Museum remove a Kelley Walker exhibition. Since then, two Washington, D.C., incidents with local connections, have kept a spotlight on the subject. One involved an historical painting, the other, the work of a teenage artist removed from a U.S. Capitol hallway.

In our latest Cut & Paste podcast, we explore issues of censorship with Rodriguez and Washington University art history professor Angela Miller.

Here’s some of what you’ll hear in the podcast:

  • Miller, on the definition of censorship: "[When an institution uses its authority] to essentially remove free speech ... and the possibilities for discussion."
  • Rodriguez, on having his piece depicting protesters in the Dominican Republic removed from a traveling exhibition: "It tells me that my people are not important, that I don’t matter; my people don’t matter. And that’s when I take it personal.”
  • Rodriguez, on how a local teen's painting about the African-American community and police was removed from the U.S. Capitol but a controversial work at the Contemporary Art Museum was left up and walled off: "Kelley Walker gets a wall built to protect his artwork. This kid gets it put down four times; what does that show that kid?"

Cut & Paste

Look for new Cut & Paste (#cutpastestl) podcasts every few weeks on our website. You can also view all previous podcasts focusing on a diverse collection of visual and performing artists, and subscribe to Cut & Paste through this link.

The show is sponsored by SPACE Architecture + Design

Follow Willis and Nancy on Twitter: @WillisRArnold and @NancyFowlerSTL

Please help St. Louis Public Radio find artists to feature on Cut & Paste. Tell us which artists and cultural themes deserve a closer look.

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.

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