“We removed your post because it doesn’t follow [Instagram’s] community guidelines. If you violate our guidelines again, your account may be restricted or disabled.”
That vague, fateful warning is one Gio Black Peter has received time and time again. To date, Peter, a queer New York-based visual artist, has cycled through 10 Instagram accounts, 15 Facebook pages, two YouTube accounts, and four Vimeo profiles. And he’s not alone: For queer fine artists‚ particularly those whose work includes nudity, censorship on social media is an unfortunate reality. These platforms—all vital networking assets and creative tools for working artists in the digital age—are notorious for their harsh censorship practices, especially when it comes to nudity.
That cautionary message from Instagram ended up becoming the inspiration for “The Violators,” a new art exhibition slated to open at New York’s Studio UZI this Friday. Curated by Peter, “The Violators” features photography, collages, and multimedia artworks from 15 LGBTQ artists whose work has been censored or banned from popular social media platforms.
Peter tells NewNowNext that images he’s personally had pulled from Facebook or Instagram were “just things going on in my every day life.” He recalled trying to get his accounts reinstated to no avail. He wasn’t the only one affected by strict community guidelines, either: Peter noticed a trend among other artists he knew, who had photographs from their social media profiles deleted, or their accounts deactivated altogether. When he announced a proposal for “The Violators,” he immediately received messages from friends who’d experienced similar things and wanted to participate.
“Social media is a part of our society at this point,” he says. “It’s an extension of ourselves. It’s powerful, especially for artists; it’s another way to be creative.”
Rather than wait for the right opportunity to arise to display the project, Peter took matters into his own hands—an homage to the queer guerrilla artists of New York’s downtown scene in the ’80s, he says. He’s hosting the exhibition at Studio UZI, his own studio-slash-gallery in Brooklyn. He’s had the space for a year, he notes, though he usually shows his own work. Now, he’s giving other artists like him a platform to showcase their work.
Artists featured in the gallery—all friends of Peter or artists he’s exhibited with in the past—hail from countries like Spain, the U.K., the U.S., Germany, Norway, and more. Most of them don’t know each other; Peter himself is the connection, the thread that ties them together.
Peter says the works included in “The Violators” are all strong individually; however, he’s especially excited to see how they interact together in the gallery. Exhibiting artists include acclaimed writer and filmmaker Bruce LaBruce and Russian multimedia artist Slava Mogutin, who penned a provocative open letter to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for The Huffington Post. Mogutin’s headline says all: “The Censorship Monster: Who’s Afraid Of A Queer Nipple In The Digital Age?”
“In the end, we’re talking about nudity,” Peter says, citing Instagram’s censorship of women’s nipples (and the subsequent #FreeTheNipple movement) as an example of social media policing marginalized bodies.
What does Peter hope people take away from “The Violators?” “To quote Patti Smith, ’People have the power,'” he says. “This exhibition is a form of protest, really.”