Hallowed Tale of Courage: Destroyer of Censors, Protector of Naked Art (or, Saving St. Labia)

by Megan M. on April 1, 2009 · View Comments (Blog) |

(I know I said I’d do this several days ago. Aggiecon was more time-intensive than I expected, and Austin has beseiged me with allergens. But aren’t you just bonkers excited that I’m here now?)

I’ve bought prints in the past, mostly when I was trying to make my 9-to-5 office an enjoyable place to work. Other than that, print buying isn’t really something I do. A print at an art show has to resonate with me powerfully for me to want it, and it needs a certain additional degree of excellence for me to actually buy it. (I’m sure a lot of people function the same way.)

What did I promise again? Intrique? Woe and introspection, right? Morose… princesses? I don’t remember. Tell the story, Megan.

When we arrived at Aggiecon 2008, last year, we found ourselves in the unique position of having to go through Marty’s display art and censoring nipples. No nipples were allowed in the art show, so they gave us a roll of blue tape and we, uh, taped ‘em up. Marty’s artwork had plenty of nipples to censor! We were a little peeved. We talked to the show staff about it, and they obviously weren’t happy with it either—they showed us some really beautiful mail-in work that they couldn’t even include in the show, and more that they bikinified so that they could still display it.

Don’t get me wrong; I think bikinification with blue tape is very funny as a general rule. But I don’t think it’s funny when it’s censoring and effectively destroying the effect of a really nice piece of artwork. The blue bikini’d artwork, in this case, was Sarah Clemens’ St. Labia trilogy: Three nude incarnations of “St. Labia, the patron saint of pornography.” Each piece was wrapped and matted and contained the same lewd gesture, and the effect was really striking: Beautiful technique, unorthodox theme. Even better, I thought they were funny, and poignant, and just plain neat. Worth seeing. (If you want to see them, here’s Sarah’s nude prints page. Buy stuff from her. She’s awesome.)

The blue tape bikinis covered up the usual suspects, but they didn’t cover up the titles (“St. Labia” is fairly straightforward) and they didn’t cover up the lewd gesture. I wasn’t offended by any part of it, but the fact that the censors were picking and choosing was particularly absurd. Even if we bypass the whole argument about natural bodies and sexual denial, this was a stupid situation, and it was probably going to affect the artists’ ability to sell their work. We had put tiny pieces of tape on Marty’s artwork, just barely covering the “offensive” parts—but the blue bikinis on St. Labia covered too much. Who would buy them now, I wondered? I walked around the entire con talking about how shameful it was, how unfair to the artist, and how insensitive it was to her hard work. This offended me—not the freaking nudity.

Aggiecon 2008 went on; Angel instituted blue tape censorship of all willing con-goers. I bummed around the dealers room and found nothing I wanted. I was disheartened and grumpy about it. Nothing called out; nothing spoke to me. Nothing said “BUY ME.”

And then I realized that wasn’t true.

St. Labia had to be protected from their censored fate, and I was going to protect them. I was going to rescue them from blue tape bikinis. And once I’d bought them, I could show them to whomever I wanted.

Take that, censorship!

Victoriously, I paid the art show people and we peeled the bikinis carefully off my new prints. A cheer went up as they reminded me that the prints were no longer under their purview, so I could wave them around like a pro-sex heathen if I wanted. (I won’t say I didn’t have the urge.) I heard a rumor that one of the staff had bought a piece called “Dragonplay” (on this page, and nsfw, obviously), having felt bad that they couldn’t display it and not wanting the artist to suffer for it. As for me, who cares whether I would have bought them in a different situation? I felt like we had triumphed over evil. Save St. Labia, save the world.

I took my prints home and gave them pride of place on my bedroom wall, feeling silly in some ways and brilliant in others. They resonated with me because I wanted to protect them, because they represented a not-always-welcome artistic and sexual expression that I think we all need more awareness of.

In 2009, Marty was christened “The Boobie Guy” for his part in all of this. (I guess if it sticks, at least it’s accurate—he draws enough of them.) “You’re the reason we have that room,” the art room attendant told him when he arrived, explaining that now the nudes were left uncensored and displayed in a separate area, requiring them to check IDs. Three of Marty’s canvas prints were displayed in the public area, and three more—sans censors—are displayed in what has apparently been dubbed the Dirty Old Man Room. (If this catches on, it’s Marty’s fault.) We still think it’s a little silly for the nude work to be separate (and I guess that’s really just the kind of folks we are), but it’s a hell of a lot better than taping it up or not displaying it at all. The staff members we spoke to were obviously happier with this solution.

Also in the quiet sanctity of the Dirty Old Man Room (you guys know by now that no link in this post is work-safe… right?) was a fourth incarnation of St. Labia, newly released this year.

At least, it was there until I bought it.

It seemed only appropriate!

  • Peter
    How odd. I just got done watching a BBC program about women considering plastic surgery on their privates ("Perfect Private Parts," it's called). Needless to say, labiaplasty was the procedure most often mentioned in the program, so how coincidental for me to see this entry just after.

    I think the program may also help me in a funny sort of way with the knowledge I'm trying to learn, deep down, that there isn't really any such thing as normal. Not as a thing; but a range, sort of, yes. Like the electron position probability cloud replacing the orbital model (which even Bohr knew wasn't quite right but was a starting place). I mean, some things are way out of the norm; if my johnson turned funny colors, I'd go see someone. But most people, we're more normal than we think.

    And when I say trying to learn, it's something I "know" intellectually without fully accepting, or fully applying to myself. And I want to.

    (Thanks for letting me tangent. Also, I owe you an email, I know.)
  • Megan M.
    But most people, we're more normal than we think.

    This is very, very true.

    I have mixed feelings about plastic surgery (for the wrong reasons it bums me out, but for the right reasons I don't see why any person shouldn't mod themselves to their heart's delight) but genital plastic surgery makes me very sad. Probably because I hear about it most often for the very most wrongest possible reasons.

    In fact, that aspect of these pictures is one of the reasons I might not have bought them except for the surrounding situation -- but they're very symbolic, and their meaning for me is layered. (Probably too layered now to actually dissect and comment on.)

    You can tangent anytime. Looking forward to that email. :}:}
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