Contemporary performance is a radical art form down to its deepest roots; it often exists as a counterpart to dominant culture in its form, content and worldview. In our society, many of us have the autonomy to make or present work like this if we so desire, and that’s a damn empowering thing. However, as we launched our season and reached out to the most accessible and financially available method of promotion, we were silenced.
Since we announced our autumn season earlier this month we have been fighting a battle with platforms Facebook and ISSUU about some of the images in our marketing material. The photos in question (for shows Sister by Amy & Rosana Cade and O by Project O) feature partially naked female bodies. There are
no arseholes – just a little side boob and a mere wisp of pubic hair.
Despite this, Facebook banned our advert because it contained ‘excessive flesh’. As Blake from the Help Centre explained, ‘Ads may not use overly sexual images, suggest nudity, show a lot of skin or cleavage, or focus unnecessarily on specific body parts.’
ISSUU have set our programme to safe mode meaning you need an account to view it, despite the fact their site features what can only be described as a treasure chest of cocks and scrotums.*
This is so wildly ironic and frustrating to me because both of these performances strive to de-stigmatize the female body. Sister is a bold yet tender exploration of female sexuality, it presents us with two naked female bodies and we spend much of the show watching their nude forms and hearing their stories. It is an intimate, respectful and considered portrayal of womanhood. O similarly claims a space – one that is fraught with preconceptions and expectations of black bodies – and it critiques and replays these assumptions whilst probing its audience to do the same. In both performances we watch naked female forms, an exchange that the performers control, yet their agency is being stripped away by these corporate platforms.
The Internet is a convoluted, bureaucratic playground when it comes to censorship. Instragram has shamed itself on multiple occasions for it’s definition of just what type of female body is permissible on its site – Petra Collin’s unkempt bikini line resulted in her account being deleted, and Rupi Kaur’s image of her bloodied sheets caused a stir after it got deleted, twice.
What riles me is thinking about who makes these decisions, maybe a computer in the first instance, but then a human. How do they arrive at these rules? Who governs these misogynistic policies? And at what point is flesh deemed excessive?
The Internet has always felt like a democratic space to me but of course it’s not; having the rulebook slammed down on my head made me see sense there. I’ll be surprised if we receive as much agro for non-apologetically presenting female bodies in the hard copy of the programme – I’m curious (and will be sure to report back).
We’re now grappling with the Facebook promotion for Sister – I’m cautiously cropping images to try and guess just how much is too much skin. As I write up this blog, quietly fuming, I’m also working on a post for Facebook about Sister when I receive this notification…
This Page appears to promote sexual or adult products or services.
If I wasn’t so downtrodden I would laugh. We are a small theatre trying to promote an empowering, sex positive show with limited resources. I’m infuriated that some person on the other side of the world is deciding what’s ‘appropriate’ for our audiences to see.
I spoke to Rosana Cade about this, who said ‘The fact that our culture bans images of naked female flesh for fear of it being sexual is exactly what’s wrong with our culture, and something we try to explore and critique with the nudity in Sister.’
‘If we can’t look at a vagina without seeing it as sexual then are we unable to see women as being anything other than sexual objects?’
We celebrate these shows and these images, and will stand by our decision to present the work, because it is excellent, and because it needs to exist and be seen, for this exact reason.
*After a mildly heated, weeklong email exchange ISSUU have now removed the flag on our programme. (The scrotums remain unflagged.)
– Abby Butcher, Programme Manager
Sister photo credit: Julia Bauer O photo credit: Phoebe Collings-James And Katarzyna Perlak