University drops artist's drawers
A Queen’s University student says he was censored after his artwork was booted out of a campus event last week.
Port Hope's David Woodward, a graduating fine arts student, said that at a donor appreciation event on May 29, he was forced to take down his art display, which featured several pairs of men’s underwear.
Along with one other fine arts student, he had been invited to the formal event to showcase his art. The underwear piece had been Woodward’s final thesis work at the university.
He said he e-mailed the event’s organizer, Lisa Menard, a university employee, beforehand to ask what type of art he should display. He was told he could bring in whichever piece he wanted.
“The only specification that she gave was that it should be no bigger than three by four (feet) and could fit on an easel,” he said.
He chose to bring his piece called “All I Am Is What I’ve Felt,” which consists of 10 pairs of embroidered men’s underwear.
Some of the underwear have simple images on them, while others are slightly more risque — one has a gun stitched on it, and another is embroidered with the phrase “only the freedom to f--- the whole world.”
According to Woodward, he sent Menard a link to his website before the show that included photos of the underwear piece, and she hadn’t acknowledged it.
On the day of the event, he arrived early to the event to set up his work, and got a surprising reaction from the university staff.
“Everyone was looking really, super awkward. A few of the women who were organizing the event approached me and said they had some serious concerns about the content of my work,” he said.
Woodward asked what they meant by that, and didn’t get a direct answer — he said they told him that the artwork was “inappropriate” for the event and “not nice to look at” for the donors attending.
After a few minutes of discussion, he was told that he needed to take the art down and leave. At this point, the event was less than 20 minutes from beginning.
Although he complied, Woodward was unhappy with the decision.
After the event, he sent a letter to Menard to express his disappointment, saying he wished the university had been clearer about what was appropriate.
“In my fourth year, there was an entire seminar devoted to censorship of artwork in both gallery and other settings,” he wrote in the email. “I am disappointed to have found myself in such an uncomfortable circumstance already, and at my own university.”
Woodward never heard back from Menard or the individuals who directly censored his artpiece, but did receive a phone-call apology from the university’s vice-principal (advancement), Tom Harris.
“I guess he had found out … I don’t know what happened,” Woodward said.
According to Woodward, Harris was apologetic and said the incident shouldn’t have happened.
“He was quite of the opinion that even if (the art) had been controversial, it should have been allowed to stay up,” Woodward said. “I really appreciated his apology and felt that it was sincere and genuine.”
He said he originally chose the piece for the event because he felt it was the most honest representation of himself as an artist at the time.
“I wasn’t trying to shake up the event or freak people out,” he said. “My goal wasn’t to make people uncomfortable. I brought what I felt was my best work at the time.”
In an e-mail to the QMI Agency, Harris confirmed that he apologized and said the decision to remove Woodward’s artwork was a “misplaced presumption” by university staff that the art would be seen as inappropriate.
He said it’s common for the university to invite students to participate in advacement events, but there’s no guidelines set out as to what subject matter is permitted in artwork.
“The request for students to display artwork at the event did not include parameters surrounding the artwork and its subject matter,” he said. “I have shared concerns I have regarding what transpired with my staff, and will continue to look at what kind of processes might be put in place to ensure that a similar situation doesn’t happen again.”