When Women’s Bodies Get Censored on Facebook: An Artist Responds

I realized that once I became a sexagenarian, my body morphed into an unseeable object, a mere biological container nestling vital organs to keep me alive. My art has always dealt with the nude — quite often my own body, naked with blemishes (which were coming on stronger as the years passed) and shifting into newly settled configurations. At the end of my sixth decade, feeling vibrant, alive with intellectual curiosity, making videos, writing, and painting what I consider some of my finest works, I decided to celebrate and literally embrace my chassis, including the scars that defined life’s odyssey.

In 1995 I got my first computer and seized on the diverse possibilities that this new technology offered. Most important, a friend taught me how to manipulate photographs in Photoshop, which turned out to be an invaluable tool for future ways to communicate. I began with a series of photographs titled “I Can Still Dance” — a self-portrait depicting my obsession with the passing of time as I “virtually” wove my body in and out of New York’s and New Jersey’s streets, stores, parks and buildings. In these portraits, the personal and the political are interlaced: they involve risk through a literal baring of self, expose the vulnerabilities of aging, and explore with humor and pathos how I as an older woman exist and navigate as unnoticeable in an urban environment.

Grace censoredabakanowicz sculpture150dpi Alterations 1980To bypass Facebook’s policies on nudity, the artist self-censored her work, for example, seen here, “Grace Joins Abakanowicz’ Alterations” (Archival Pigment Print, 2015).

I joined Facebook in 2005 shortly after it was first launched, and became “Friends” with a widening group of “Like”-minded artists. Dialogues on style, meaning, technique, branding, and commercialization were discussed with people from all over the globe — there being no geographical boundaries as fresh ideas penetrated my hermetic solitary working cosmos. Images were exchanged and suddenly a person who had just existed as a name of a stranger, took on a fresh presence once I beheld their visuals. Into this online neighborhood, I decided to post my self-portraits and quickly got a notification from Facebook’s Standards Policy on Nudity to desist. Intimidated, I devised a strategy of bypassing their provincially narrow definition of nudity and decided to self-censor by covering my breasts (particularly nipples) and genitalia with black rectangles — aesthetically a distraction, but crucial to being permitted to stay in the Facebook community. Since that time, I have feared Facebook’s imposing anonymous “watchers,” and whenever I conceive of a new composite photograph, I sense their hot sighs on my neck, ever vigilant.

I have been fortunate to have two comprehensive articles written by Suzanne Russell in Women’s Voices For Change, a magazine whose mission focuses on women over 40 celebrating “. . . the power and wisdom of women in the second half of life.” The comments that Women’s Voices readers wrote, like the one below, gave me added impetus to freely make art without the restrictions and hypocrisy that are often evident on social media sites:

“I’ve known Grace for more than thirty years and have enjoyed her series “Grace Delving Into Art.” The naked human body is a wondrous miracle–and not an easy form to reproduce well in sculpture or on canvas. Grace is not only pointing out the beauty of the aging body, but she is highlighting the works of artists from long ago and bringing them to the attention of the public in a new way.” — Penelope Marzec

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  • grace graupe-pillard September 3, 2015 at 10:19 am

    Would be wonderful for those who read this article to sign my petition: STOP BANNING ARTISTS’ IMAGES OF NUDITY ON FACEBOOK BY ANONYMOUS “REPORTERS”WITHOUT ACCESS TO REDRESS!
    Click on:
    Thank you,

  • grace graupe-pillard August 29, 2015 at 6:01 pm

    Diane – I was honored to be invited to the Paula Modersohn Becker panel and touched by your words on this series. Your encouragement is heartening.
    Thank you.

  • Diane Radycki August 29, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    On the basis of her ground-breaking series Grace Delving into Art, I invited Grace to participate on a panel in a program organized by the New York Public Library. The program series, “An Art Book,” established by Arezoo Moseni (Senior Art Librarian), showcases an art book “and discussions by world-renowned artists, critics, curators, gallerists, historians, and writers.” The book under discussion was my Paula Modersohn-Becker: The First Modern Woman Artist (Yale U. Press, 2013). Grace was my artist of choice because, like the pioneering Modersohn-Becker in 1906, Grace is challenging centuries of representations of the female body and ageism in a new medium for art–and with an attitude that is positive and generous. To deem this work censurable is insulting.

    Grace and her work, by the by, was shoulder-to-shoulder that evening with that of the critic John Colapinto (The New Yorker), the curator Alessandra Comini (whose exhibition Egon Schiele: Portraits was soon to open to an extended run at the Neue Galerie, New York); the gallerist, Suzanne Gerlach, director of the Böttcherstrasse/ Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum in Bremen; and the writer, Marie Darrieussecq, winner of the 2013 Prix Médicis and a finalist for Prix Goncourt for her 1996 debut novel Pig Tales. And the panel drew a standing-room only crowd.

  • grace graupe-pillard August 27, 2015 at 11:02 pm

    Roz- thanks but creeping along!

  • Roz Warren August 27, 2015 at 10:35 pm

    Just signed the petition. You’re closing in on 1000.

  • grace graupe-pillard August 27, 2015 at 11:32 am

    Thank you Franc, Jeannette and Miriam for your articulate words and support. Again very much appreciated.

  • miriam brumer August 27, 2015 at 10:54 am

    A really well-written article , Grace, it states your position quite clearly and also has some of the playful humor you display, at times, in the photos. Censorship has something narrow and punitive about it and I think it is really misplaced in connection what you have been doing. The nude has always been a subject in art and it’s been accepted as such for a long time. It’s fascinating to me how images of violence are more easily accepted (in films, TV and print media) than those of nudity.

  • Jeanette August 27, 2015 at 8:59 am

    This is the first time ever I’ve responded to anything on line However ur comment on showing the truly horrible things that is going on in our world today complied be to respond. Grace keep fighting I’m 100 precent behind u. Ur devoted student Jeanette

  • Franc Palaia August 26, 2015 at 11:43 pm

    I have known Grace for over 40 years and all through her art career she has been bold, independent and fearless and her nude works on facebook are a recent manifestation of is. She has been painting nudes since the first day I met her in 1973. She is a trailblazer by working on facebook as a medium and should be given credit for it rather than punished and censored. She is discreet in covering the naughty bits so let her and other artists use the open public internet as a way to communicate to the world.

  • grace graupe-pillard August 26, 2015 at 9:07 pm

    Lara -Love that as usual you get right to the point.
    Karen – Many many thanks for your supportive words.
    Irene – your English is fine – you expressed yourself perfectly.

  • Lara Allen August 26, 2015 at 5:49 pm

    Grace, besides your images being playful, celebratory and sometimes wry, they are also subversive. I stand behind you every step of the way.

  • Irene Smit Stern August 26, 2015 at 4:34 pm

    Red the article,my english is not good enough to comment, but I agree with the others!
    Go on with what you are doing! Love it dear cousin!

  • Karen Kantor August 26, 2015 at 4:06 pm

    As usual your article is poignant and truly captures the meaning of your art. FB should be ashamed of their censor regarding your work. It’s no excuse for FB to not get IT.

  • grace graupe-pillard August 26, 2015 at 4:04 pm

    Phyllis – thanks – we all (including models) have less than ideal bodies and I for one don’t mind showing imperfections in my ARTWORK.

  • Phyllis Rosser August 26, 2015 at 3:06 pm

    This is a terrific article, Grace. Well written and eloquent about the subject. I completely agree with you about censoring women’s nude bodies. It’s very brave of you to use your less than perfect body for your art and hard to imagine why anyone would be offended.

  • grace graupe-pillard August 26, 2015 at 2:26 pm

    Thank you Joyce, Judith, JoEllen, Frank, Suzan, Hillsmom, and Marcia for all your intelligent and passion-filled responses. I am moved.

  • Marcia G. Yerman August 26, 2015 at 2:01 pm

    It’s really unfortunate that Facebook can’t differentiate between hate speech, violent images, and art.

  • hillsmom August 26, 2015 at 11:26 am

    I signed because I think you are right. However, I’m not on Facebook, so it may not count. When a woman turns sixty, everything drops 6″. What we are not told is that it keeps on going… Hang in…oops, not the right word. Let’s say instead, stand up for your style!

  • Suzan August 26, 2015 at 11:15 am

    It seems to be condoned to ridicule, demean and exploit images of women’s bodies but to use them to provoke thought about beauty, age, and nudity in art, well NOW you’ve gone too far, Grace. Keep going!

  • Frank Ettenberg August 26, 2015 at 10:58 am

    It hurts to witness what you’ve been going through as an internet- media-interested artist. I believe your series of naked-pictures in an artistic context has lots of meaning and certainly does generate many new ideas and reactions where your viewers are. You’ve taken the bull by the horns and consequently experience the threats of a matador ( perhaps the spelling is different for a female matador? ).

  • Judith Hamill August 26, 2015 at 10:56 am

    I think I have already signed the petition, but I will try again to get Facebook friends and non-Facebook friends to sign it, too.
    I must say, Grace, I find your writing as beautiful as your art!

  • JoEllen Trilling August 26, 2015 at 10:49 am

    I would prefer to be accused of something someone
    finds offensive in my art work face to face or at least… not anonymously….
    Who should be ashamed … to say what and why? That manner of accusation harks back in history to the rumor of witches and says more about the accuser than they realize.

  • Joyce Kozloff August 26, 2015 at 10:39 am

    This work is the opposite of pornographic. It’s funny, smart, and raises provocative issues about women, aging, and what is acceptable to show (in the art world as well as the larger culture).

  • grace graupe-pillard August 26, 2015 at 10:11 am

    Thank you Andrea – your comments are really appreciated.

  • Andrea August 26, 2015 at 8:29 am

    YOU GO GRACE! I will sign your petition and any others that allow for freedom of expression. I am on Facebook and see all kinds of mind numbing photos of “celebrities” and their butt cracks or as Rene said “horrific images of war mangled bodies and cruelty to animals” I love your Brancusi self portrait and especially your facial expression! Keep expressing!!