Fine Art

Angela Strassheim’s nude pregnant woman – is it porn?

From the collection Project Atrium © Angela Strassheim, courtesy of the artist, Andrea Meislin Gallery and the Jacksonville Museum of Contemporary Art

Jacksonville council threatens public art gallery because of "pornographic" photograph of nude pregnant woman

A photograph of a nude pregnant woman on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Jacksonville, Florida, has been described as “pornographic” by the local council.

City Council president Clay Yarborough is lobbying Jacksonville’s mayor, Alvin Brown, to withdraw a $230,000 grant the museum receives from the city’s Cultural Council, such is his revulsion at the photograph.

The museum has stood firm, releasing a statement pledging not to remove the photograph from its public entrance area, part of an exhibition called Project Atrium, by photographer and artist Angela Strassheim.

A patron for the museum described Yarborough as “ridiculous and sad” in a comment reported by news4jax.

Yarborough became aware of the photograph during a lunch meeting at the museum’s restaurant. As part of a statement, he said: “While we may all differ on the definition of art, the real question is, ‘Should an adult and/or children who wish to eat at Café Nola be forcibly exposed to the picture upon entering the public, taxpayer-owned building if they do not wish to see it?’”

Councilman Don Redman sided with Yarborough. “I think that a nude body to a young child is pornography, yes,” Redman told news4jax.

Museum officials confirmed they have been in contact with Strassheim, who was born in Bloomfield, Iowa, and has a BFA in media arts from Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and an MFA in photography from Yale University. She is said to be “shocked” by the council’s comments. “I am proud of the museum for standing by their beliefs in the freedom of expression, and [for standing] by me,” she said.

“With this show, I am trying to elaborate on the idea of girlhood and the many facets of those experiences up to this particular point in my life,” Strassheim said in her artist’s statement.

“I see an intimate moment of a nude, very pregnant woman basking in the last bit of afternoon sunlight as she waits for the birth of her child,” Strassheim said of her subject, Janine Iversen, who is now a mother. “She is not affected by the cold of winter outside her window.”

Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville director Marcelle Polednik said of the controversy: “It certainly is a concern for every citizen of Jacksonville and every citizen of this country. When we start limiting the First Amendment, we all suffer as a society.”

The Mayor’s Office said it plans to involve city lawyers. Withdrawing the funding, as Yarborough requested, would potentially impinge on rights provided by the First Amendment.

Yarborough’s statement read in full:

“In order to get to Café Nola, one is required to enter the doors of MOCA because there is no other way through which the public can access the restaurant. Upon entering the doors of MOCA on Tuesday for a lunch meeting at Café Nola, I observed the picture hanging on the gallery wall in plain view of anyone entering, including children. Unlike other venues that may contain such pictures, no admission fee is required to enter the lobby and view the picture.

“While we may all differ on the definition of art, the real question is, ‘Should an adult and/or children who wish to eat at Café Nola be forcibly exposed to the picture upon entering the public, taxpayer-owned building if they do not wish to see it?’

“As a parent of young children, I support parental choice and believe no parent should be put in the position of having to answer awkward questions that could arise from their child seeing a picture like that. The Mayor’s position is still unknown, and the Cultural Council’s response suggests an unwillingness to compromise, which is unfortunate in this situation. Since this issue surfaced, it is also interesting that all public-facing media outlets, including Facebook, have either blurred or removed the image due to content.”

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NB. The picture used in this article is from the series Project Atrium, within which the photograph concerned was exhibited.