A Graphic Picture Is Worth A Thousand Votes

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Date: 1993

Region: North America

Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion

Medium: Public Art


Artist: Martin Mawyer, President of the Christian Action Network

Confronting Bodies: House Speaker Thomas Foley

Dates of Action: 1993

Location: Washington, DC

Description of Artwork: Martin Mawyer's display, entitled A Graphic Picture Is Worth A Thousand Votes, was meant to show that offensive work was being funded by the NEA. This display included images from Joel-Peter Witkin, a New Mexico based photographer, as well as Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano. The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and The 18th Street Arts Complex in Santa Monica, California were attacked also.

The Incident: The display, arranged by the Christian Action Network to show members of Congress that "offensive" art was still being funded by the NEA, was abruptly banned from the Capitol before it even opened and then was closed down by House Speaker Thomas Foley's office after fifteen minutes in a second location. "This is true censorship," complained Martin Mawyer, president of the Christian Action Network, as uniformed guards in a House office complex announced that his exhibition had to be dismantled. "Every one has free-speech rights except us. If the members knew what they were funding, it would be the end of the NEA." The exhibition was part of an ongoing campaign by the group to persuade Congress not to fund NEA or to incorporate regulations on grant monitoring during the next re authorization hearing. Mawyer had invited every Congressional office to view a series of sexually explicit photographs of work allegedly funded by the Endowment, but when people arrived on the first floor of the Capitol at the scheduled time, the room was empty and Mawyer was announcing a new location. Rep. Philip Crane (R-IL) had reserved the room, which is under the jurisdiction of the House Ways and Means Committee, but Reps. Sidney Yates (D-IL) withdrew permission when they decided the exhibit violated House rules on lobbying in the Capitol. Mawyer said his group had secured a backup room in a House annex through Crane's office. But the Speaker's office, which controls the use of meeting rooms, said permission was never granted for its use. The Speaker's staff also concluded that the purpose of the show would be lobbying. "Their advertising - A Graphic Picture Is Worth A Thousand Votes - was a clear indication," said Webb.

Results of Incident: The display was considered a method of lobbying in inappropriate venues in the Capitol and was removed.

Source: Office for Intellectual Freedom, American Library Association