There has been a lot of hoopla this last week about a certain photograph, Janine Eight Months Pregnant, by Angela Strassheim at the recently hung Project Atrium exhibition at MOCA Jacksonville. Jacksonville City Council President Clay Yarborough has declared it pornography and that it should be removed from the atrium of the museum or else have its public funding pulled. The City Council President’s handling of this situation has caused an uproar in the art community, namely via social media.
So, is this photograph a piece of art or pornography? As I see it, this work is indeed a piece of art. The context of its setting in a museum and it’s title points to this evident truth. While the content is of an expectant mother, breasts showing and dappled by natural light, the artist uses the medium of photography to carefully pose her figure in the same art historical tradition of such masters as Titian and Manet. This convention adds credibility to the artist’s prowess as an art maker and plants this work in the same category of serious art.
The large scale photograph of Janine Eight Months Pregnant by no means objectifies the female form, but rather turns the gaze of the viewer into one that anticipates the birth of a child. The photograph celebrates life and the role of young mother’s in contemporary society. In relationship to the other photographs hung in the Project Atrium exhibition, the photograph calls upon themes of the cycle of life, youth, and adolescence. In some of the photographs Strassheim uses her nieces and nephews as subject matter for this body of work, and combined with her expert eye she composes images that are rich and compelling.
Bare breasts or the nude form do not constitute this photograph as being a pornographic work. The young woman posed isn’t inciting the viewer to participate in any illicit act, whether mentally, emotionally, or physically. This artwork is neither gratuitous nor obscene. The nude in art has been incorporated for millennia and has allowed the viewer to understand all stations of life.
One of the great things that art provides a community is the opportunity to discuss and dialogue about the circumstances that constitute the human experience. All perspectives should be welcomed because it helps us see ourselves and others more deeply. Art should be a unifying experience to the community at large. No one person has the authority to mitigate the way we see the world. To do so would be a detriment to our society asa whole.