Body landscape causes offence

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    Southland artist Cory Varcoe covers the offending portion of his artwork Shepard's warning in the Chiaroni Gallery this week. Photo: Petrina Wright

    IS it art and a celebration of the human form or an offensive pornographic image? You decide.

    Southland-based fine art photographer Cory Varcoe’s Bodyscapes Facebook page was removed by Facebook last month after a video he posted of his artwork Shepard’s warning caused offence.

    The photographic work portrays the naked female body as a landscape. The nipples of the subject are visible.

    Varcoe said his first reaction when his page was removed was one of “disbelief”‘.

    “I understand that not everyone appreciates my work or understands it. A person once referred to it as pornography, which is pretty out there,” he said.

    “When I put my work out there I have to accept not everyone is going to like it or understand it, but for someone to report it on Facebook, that was a bit of a crushing defeat.

    “If someone doesn’t like it, just scroll past it.”

    The page, which showcased examples of his artwork and information about his upcoming exhibitions, had been active for about six years and attracted about 870 likes, a following he had worked hard to grow, he said.

    “I have never had any complaints about the site before,” he said.

    Two days after he posted the video he was notified by Facebook the post did not comply with its community standards.

    The social media company gave him the option to remove the post or ask for a review.

    He requested a review because he believed the image complied with Facebook’s adult nudity policy.

    “This was [by way of] a tick box, I was never given an option to explain anything,” he said.

    “In hindsight I probably should have deleted it, but I asked for a review because it was a physical work hanging in a gallery.”

    Facebook’s policy on adult nudity states: “We understand that nudity can be shared for a variety of reasons… Where such intent is clear, we make allowances for the content. For example, while we restrict some images of female breasts that include the nipple, we allow other images, including those depicting acts of protest, women actively engaged in breast-feeding and photos of post-mastectomy scarring. We also allow photographs of paintings, sculptures and other art that depicts nude figures.”

    Varcoe said his piece complied because it was art.

    The intention behind his work was to show the human body in a new light, he said. “I am trying to portray the body for the beauty that it is.”

    Within four days of first being notified of the alleged breach, and after he requested a review, Facebook unpublished his Bodyscapes page indefinitely.

    His personal accounts were also blocked for a short period of time.

    He had received no communication from Facebook as to the reason why, he said.

    “I was annoyed Facebook had not given me the opportunity to state my case.”

    One of Varcoe’s models, Shannon Taylor, said she was “shocked” by Facebook’s actions.

    “I love [Varcoe’s] work. I thought it was very tasteful and unique in how he perceives the body form and what he does with it,” she said.

    From the model’s perspective, seeing her body in that way had increased her self confidence, she said.

    “You learn to appreciate your body when you see it under a light like that.

    “I was very proud of it.”

    Invercargill Public Art Gallery manager/curator Sarah Brown said she was surprised by Facebook’s actions.

    “The human form in its nude state has been used in art forever,” she said.

    “To me it looks like [Varcoe] is using the beauty of the human form to portray the beauty of the landscape.

    “I can’t see anything that is offensive about that.

    “What one person considers art another person considers pornography,” she said. “It is very subjective.”

    However in this case, she believed Varcoe’s work complied with Facebook’s policy on nudity so it was “strange” Facebook would remove his page, she said.

    Varcoe set up a new Facebook page to promote his work earlier this week. On Tuesday night, and without prior warning, his account was locked and the page shut down by Facebook.

    “I still haven’t breached any of their standards, especially with my new page as I was being extra cautious,” he said.

    “Seems I can’t win.”

    The Southland Express contacted Facebook for comment but had not received a response at the time of print.

    Varcoe’s exhibition Connection is on at the Chiaroni Gallery, Invercargill, until Sunday.

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