Censorpedia: An Interactive Database of Censorship Incidents

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This Week's Featured Case


Artist: Kara Walker

Year: 2012

Date of Action: December 2012-January 2013

Region: North America

Location: Newark, New Jersey

Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion

Medium: Painting

Confronting Bodies: Newark Public Library

Description of Artwork: The 6-by-9½-foot graphite and pastel on paper is titled The moral arc of history ideally bends towards justice but just as soon as not curves back around toward barbarism, sadism, and unrestrained chaos (2010), represents black life in the South. Lynchings, the burning of a cross, Ku Klux Klan members, and sexual violence are all shown in the image.

Walker commented: “The work is not about slavery so much as it conjures horrors of reconstruction and 20th-century Jim Crow-ism and the Tea Party. I wanted to make a point about the way these images arose for many when Barack Obama (pictured at a little lectern on the mid-left) gave his national speech on race. And the many times he invokes his or his wife’s heritage to make an ideological point about American patriotism, which in some way grants permission to the ghosts of racist terrorism to be reimagined—here with KKK hooded figures, lynched bodies and sexual violence—and these should be horrible to behold, and should feel both familiar and uncomfortable.”

The Incident: An artwork by Kara Walker on loan to the Newark Public Library from Scott London, a New York-based art collector, offended some library employees, especially African-Americans, who requested its removal. The drawing was then covered with a cloth: the piece was installed Nov. 19, and hidden by Nov. 24.

Results of Incident: Library director Wilma Grey uncovered the drawing. “I’m going to leave it that way,” Grey said. “Several people have suggested I turn this into a teaching moment. Most librarians are very much opposed to censorship and I’m in that camp. We’ll have a staff meeting very soon. There’s so much for people to learn about Walker and her work and about intellectual freedom.” (Art in America, Dec 11, 2012).

Library officials then planned to create an informational handout at the library, and open a discussion about the work with employees to stir debate and spur conversation.


Kara Walker Artwork Censored at Newark Library, by Brian Boucher. Art in America, Dec 11, 2012

Kara Walker and Wilma Grey on Free Expression, NCAC, Nov 20, 2013

What is Censorpedia?

Censorpedia is a crowdsourced online database of censorship cases within the arts and in culture. It is aimed at those researching censorship, at activists working for freedom of expression and at artists and other cultural producers whose expression has been subject to censorship or attempted censorship.

Censorpedia documents censorship incidents by providing the who, what, when, where and why. By providing a repository of information about what is vulnerable to censorship and about the strategies and tactics that have defeated previous’ censorship attempts, Censorpedia aids the fight for free expression.

Researchers can search for a specific case, year or keyword using the search box, as well as browse by medium, by grounds for censorship, or explore a random case.

Activists can search for ongoing cases or contribute a case that is ongoing or recently resolved.

Artists and cultural producers are similarly invited to add cases they are directly involved with or are familiar with first hand.

Censorpedia builds on the landmark 1994 art project The File Room, initiated by Muntadas.

For more information about censorship visit our Annotated Bibliography

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