A Minnesota college temporarily shut down an exhibit showing veiled women in various suggestive poses after some Muslim students were offended by the art.
The exhibition at Macalester College in St. Paul was organized by Iranian-American artist Taravat Talepasand, 44, whose work challenges Islamic conservatism and the oppression of women.
Items on display included drawings of women in niqabs and heels lifting up their robes to reveal underwear, as well as porcelain sculptures of similar women with huge exposed breasts.
The exhibition opened on Jan. 27, but the art was quickly covered with black curtains after a group of students signed a petition suggesting Talepasand’s work causes “deep pain” and “enduring harm,” the reported Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.
The gallery remained covered for a weekend before reopening with a contents warning and frosted glass on some windows to prevent offended students or others from viewing the art without first being made aware of its contents.
Macalester College in St Paul covered a gallery with black curtains after Muslim students contained indecent depictions of women in niqabs. A few days later, it reopened with frosted glass to prevent offended students from accidentally seeing the art
These are some of the artworks that angered some Muslim students and caused the exhibition to be temporarily closed
Taravat Talepasand, 44, is an American-Iranian artist whose work challenges conservative Islamic attitudes toward women and explores cultural taboos
A number of porcelain sculptures on display at the college depicted women in niqabs with large breasts
Talepasand was born and raised in Oregon, but much of her art is informed by her Persian heritage, exploring cultural taboos and challenging political and religious authority.
One exhibit at the college’s Law Warschaw Gallery was a neon sign reading “Woman, Life, Freedom” in English and Persian. It has become a slogan in recent protests in Iran against the treatment of women.
“While we respect the principle of academic freedom, we also recognize that freedom, like art, does not simply exist in a vacuum,” some students wrote in a petition to the college.
“The decision to show and continue showing this exhibition despite the damage it is causing is a deeply problematic issue. It targets and harms an already small community that exists on this campus,” they wrote.
“The administration’s inaction is unacceptable, but unfortunately not surprising. Administration’s decisions continue to ignore the deep pain felt by many of their students.’
The school issued a statement after deciding to reopen the gallery with the changes made.
“The Law Warschaw Gallery reopened today after a brief hiatus over the weekend,” the college said in an emailed statement on Monday, February 6.
They added: “During this time we held several interviews with students, faculty and staff to consider multiple perspectives from Muslim communities on campus, worked with the artist and provided support to the gallery staff.
“We’ve also prepared the gallery to prevent accidental or non-consensual viewing of certain works and added a content warning.”
A neon sign reading “Woman, Life, Freedom” was a nod to recent nationwide protests in Iran
The college said in a statement that it worked with students, faculty and staff to consider all perspectives and decided to reopen the gallery with modifications
The controversy at Macalester College comes shortly after Hamline University, just two miles away, made national headlines after an art history professor was fired for showing 14th-century depictions of Muhammad.
Erika López Prater, 42, was fired from her post at Hamline University despite warning students about the images in advance.
The university’s decision backfired when leaders said 71 of 92 members who attended a meeting voted to ask President Fayneese Miller to step down over her decision.
“We are dismayed that members of the administration mishandled this issue and greatly damaged the reputation of Minnesota’s oldest university,” the faculty board statement said.
It later said, “As we no longer have confidence in President Miller’s ability to advance the University, we urge her to submit her resignation to the Board of Trustees of Hamline University immediately.”
After criticism from across the country, Miller acknowledged that she mishandled the episode, sparking debate about balancing academic freedom with respect for religion.
“Like all organizations, we sometimes make mistakes,” she said in a joint statement with the chair of the school’s board of trustees. “In the interest of hearing from and supporting our Muslim students, language has been used that does not reflect our attitude towards academic freedom.