Mother/Father (sculpture)

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Date: 1998

Region: North America

Subject: Explicit Sexuality, Nudity, Sexual/Gender Orientation

Medium: Sculpture


Artist: Jenny Root - senior graphic design major at Auburn University

Confronting Bodies: Auburn University administration

Dates of Action: April, 1998

Location: Auburn, Georgia USA

Description of Artwork: In 1998, Jenny Root, a senior graphic design major at Auburn University created a two-part sculpture titled Mother/Father which she intended to have exhibited in the university-wide juried art show to be shown at Foy Gallery in the Student Union building. In the “mother” element of Root’s two-part sculpture, white-colored fluid is pumped up through vinyl tubing through the breasts of a latex female torso. In the “father” element, fluid is pumped up into a latex male genital area and out through the penis-like appendage. The two elements are situated approximately 10 feet apart. Root claims that the intention of her piece of artwork was to bring up the need to accept and love our bodies and its functioning as beautiful and not something to fear or hide. A written artist’s statement of such was intended to be displayed with the work.

The Incident: In 1998, Jenny Root entered her sculpture, titled Mother/Father, into the Auburn university-wide juried art exhibition (with prize money awarded for winning work) to be exhibited at Foy Gallery in the Student Union building. Initially accepted into the exhibit by the art department faculty based on its artistic merit, Root went about installing her sculpture in Foy Union Gallery. However, soon after the sculpture was installed, the question of whether it was suitable for display in the large and public gallery was raised by administrators outside the art department. On April 14, 1998 Root was informed that her work was being censored because it was considered “inappropriate” for exhibition in Foy Union Gallery. The director of exhibitions, Barry Fleming and Dean Nancy Hartsfield, told Root that Auburn University lawyers had reviewed the work and did not want Root’s piece to be displayed in the show. Root was told that she must remove her sculpture immediately, and that perhaps it could be exhibited in the art building – a less “public” space.

Results of Incident: After protest by Root and other art students, Mother/Father was installed in Biggin Gallery – a less public and less favorable place - which many believe was done to cover any claim of censoring her work. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the National Campaign for Freedom of Expression, the College Art Association, and the National Coalition Against Censorship were all informed of the censorship of Root’s sculpture. The various organizations joined together writing letters to various administrators at Auburn University protesting the censorship of Root’s sculpture.

Source: The Plainsman, Auburn University newspaper published on Thursday April 23, 1998. And, ACLU newsletter from April 23, 1998. National Coalition Against Censorship article: http://www.ncac.org/censorship_news/20030305~cn070~The_Long_And_The_Short_Of_It.c