This week editor James Cartwright wonders whether it was right to remove the Chapman Brothers’ controversial sculpture Piggyback from a Roman gallery or whether it’s an affront to creative freedoms. As ever your comments are welcome below…
This week Piggyback, a 1998 work of art by the British artists Jake and Dinos Chpaman was removed from display at the MAXXI gallery in Rome. It depicts two adolescent girls sat on each other’s shoulders, one with a penis protruding from her mouth, and is part of a series of similar sculptures on children created by the Chapmans over a number of years.
Piggyback was donated to the museum on 2010 when its previous owner Claudia Gian Ferrari passed away, and has been on display since December 2013. But on Saturday the museum took the decision to remove the artwork following a request from the Italian Observatory on the Rights of the Child. They claim to have received numerous complaints from gallery visitors who object to the explicit nature of the sculpture and its supposed promotion of “paedo-pornographic material."
“This is not about an attack on the freedom of artistic expression,” said observatory president Antonio Marziale, “but to avoid promoting depictions with a clear paedopornographic context behind the art.” Context seems to be exactly what Marziale is missing.
Before I start ranting it’s important to note that I’m not a staunch supporter of the Chapman Brothers. I appreciate some of their work, find a lot of it tedious, and was bored to tears by the overblown response to Jake Chapman’s assertion the other week that taking children to art galleries was a “waste of time.” Calm down middle classes of Middle England, his whole intention is to piss you off! But in light of this recent incident I feel bound to defend them both.
Provocative or otherwise it’s important that the Chapman brothers’ work is appreciated in context. Piggyback is shocking to look at, but I don’t think for a second that its intention is to promote paedophilia to a fine art audience. First and foremost it’s a satirical work, but removing it from a gallery suggests its motivations are the same as the very thing it seeks to satirise – that its purpose is arousal and not provocation, that we should accept it instead of question it, and that there is no distinction between representation and reality.
This is a dangerous stance to support, not simply because it threatens creative freedoms, but because it whitewashes the issue and closes down debate. Piggyback is nothing if not shocking, but its power lies in its ability to shock; we look at the sculpture, are moved to disgust and prompted to consider the commodification of child sexuality and the exploitation of minors worldwide. In this sense Piggyback is a powerful piece of anti-paedopornographic propaganda, lampooning a world that allows the abuse of its children. To cover it up may be more convenient to the Observatory’s ideals, but Marziale and the Chapman’s motivations are the same.
If Marziale really wants us to “remember the vile phenomenon” of child pornography then he ought to be sending us all to look at Piggyback. The emotions it provokes may cause us discomfort, but that discomfort reminds us of the rights of our children. “Everyone must agree to promote a culture which is opposed to paedophilia,” says Marziale. But banishing works of art that seek to promote that very culture probably isn’t the best way to go about it.
- Sean and Seng travelled to Mongolia to shoot for Arena Homme+
- Joshua T Gibbons provides an insight into the relaxed bachelor lifestyle of Cockney Stan
- New York-based Blake Lewis’ neat and considered portfolio exudes simplicity
- Latvian illustrator Zane Zlemeša's delicately painted drawings
- Photographer Carlota Guerrero on collaborating with Solange and getting signed to WeFolk (some NSFW)
- Linda Brownlee’s beautiful photography book captures family life in a Sicilian village
- Wes Anderson directs H&M Christmas advert starring Adrien Brody
- The New Look: Looking back at Roundel’s 1980s identity design for British Rail’s Railfreight
- Discussing cinema with Laura Marling on her directorial debut, Soothing
- London’s first crisp restaurant, Hipchips, launches with branding by Ragged Edge
- Richard Sandler’s street photography conveys the intricacies of city life
- A "stress opus" from cartoonist Nadine Redlich