Fighting for Artistic freedom

All good art is an indiscretion. Tennessee Williams

I have experienced some really difficult situations where my work has been censored and my physical and mental health has suffered.  Those who have censored me have experienced no consequences for their actions and I have been expected to suffer in silence..this is my attempt to start the fightback by documenting the rejection I have experienced and exploring some supports for artist's Freedom of  Expression


Much of my art work focuses on the unclothed male. as you can read on my deviantart site  from my deviantart site   the maleunclothed
often set in a classical or religious context

This is difficult

1. the subject of the naked male is out of fashion in art circles despite being the predominate subject for many cultures over several millennia

 the unclothed male is the pre-eminent subject of my artistic endeavours - this subject evokes tenderness sadness longing ecstasy and desire in me. 

In my approach you can see I like the expressionists and fauvists and would say I am most interested in how my art conveys feelings. I am constantly criticized for this by my art teacher who is heavily influenced by formalism and lives in fear of sentimentality in art. Nevertheless I persist with the use of colour and a free style to help me convey these transformative feelings.

2015. I am beginning to understand why my art teacher dislikes my male nudes so much 

Phillip Pearlstein quoted in The Naked Nude p90 Frances Borzello 2012

In 1962 “It seems madness on the part of any painter educated in the 20th-century modes of picture making to take as his subject the naked human figure ,conceived as a self-contained entity possessed of its own dignity, existing in an inhabitable space ; viewed form a single vantage point “

The nude is out of fashion in art circles but refuses to go away 

2. The fear and moral panic that exists in relation to a perceived threat from the naked male form especially when the penis is visible. as a society we seem beset by  Phallophobia  the morbid and irrational fear of penises. I think the dynamics of fear are different for each person but broadly there are three categories of response I have experienced

Gay men  despite what you might think gay men are not immune from phallophobia. Australia's most popular gay magazine makes an art form out of not showing the penis  
Many Gay artists do not include the penis for fear of rejection and being typecast by other artists and by society. I have been at a Sydney nude beach where some gay men change under towels in order to avoid being seen naked  

Straight men..a common response to my work is "WTF  " when I post naked male pictures on deviantart or some form of schoolboy humour about penis size . A penis revealed requires each man to reflect on the size of their own penis and disrupts the way the patriarchy allocates power on the basis of occupation wealth and achievements 

Again I have been surprised an disappointed at the negativity towards male nudity shown by many women including people you would expect to be more liberal such as arts is largely risk aversion and a lack of commitment to artistic freedom 

3 My work critiques established religion's attitude to nudity and abuse of their authority 
I have done one series of work openly critical\of clerical abuse of power 
I frequently place the unclothed male figure in a spiritual context referring to religious architecture or symbols to comment on both carnal and religious aspects of being human

Case Studies 

1. Phallophobia on line   

1. On line discrimination
Context I posted this image on a secret facebook group set up by photographers and models, someone anonymously complained to facebook causing the moderator to take it down..A previous imageof mine that also included a non erect penis was taken down by the moderators without consultation 
 example a 

  • Moderator

    Hi Michael, firstly, my apology. I was the one that took your image down this morning. I wanted to get a message to you earlier but I've had other pressing matters to work through. I'd ask you to try not to take it personally. It's not a comment on you or your work. We all value your opinion and your contributions within the group. We left the image up for a time to intentionally encouraged discussion, which I hope you got some value out of.
  • 26/02/2016 11:02

    I noticed when I checked in this morning that the last four comments over night and this morning were all expressing grievances about the image appearing in their facebook feeds and about a "perceived" double standard. I don't want our decision here to in any way deter you from your work, your art or your beliefs. This is just a decision we have made for this group.

only just got your message I was surprised that it had disappeared and very discouraged ..those anonymous tip-offs to facebook are annoying and unfair and set a dangerous precedent. What if I complained about this similar pic of 2 females dancing this time showing 2 vaginas and nipples? I do feel discriminated against given these two incidents perhaps it best if Ieft the group ?
I can't help it if you feel discriminated against Michael, the complaint was obviously anonymous. My priority was to remove the image before Facebook wouldn't take a closer look at the group. As I've tried to explain to you its not the fact that the genitalia is exposed but its the context in which it is displayed and I think that is what is getting people upset. The way I look at it is regardless of if its a nude shot or clothed the image has got to come with some sort of meaning behind it, a purpose otherwise its empty and soulless. Your platform, your voice is a very valid one you have definitely got something that should be expressed but given peoples attitudes and the limitations of the group images that are a little more confrontational are going to get a poor response

. The admin are trying there best to allow as much expression as possible to go through but there are constraints and they need to be considered by everyone when they post. Regardless of where we display our images to people we always need to consider the Audience and to what level people will be receptive to the work we do, whilst there's always going a need on occasion to contest peoples perceptions and be confrontational, placement, timing and the level of contention are really important, if done right the message is successful if done wrong people either get upset or simply switch off.

From what I've seen of your work the message you're trying to get across is that the male form (which include the genitals) is a beautiful thing, while i totally agree however as you and I know social convention goes against that even with other Artists. So as an Artist you have to play is smart, you've got to say to yourself "How can I get my message across in a way that can be effective without being to confrontational that I either turn people away or I end up ostracising myself?" is there another way to show the message you're trying to get across? Personally, as an Artist I love tools like alluding to things, subliminal messaging. I find things like shadow play and natural blurs can actually intrigue people and draw them in and before they realise it the message I'm trying to convey is being spoken and heard and best case accepted. As an example what kind of attention do you give to a person who standing on a street corning yelling "You must love God or you're going to be damned" verses someone who starts up a conversation with you and leads into the conversation? Take the Audience on a journey Michael, tease and flirt with the idea
Thanks for your lengthy response. . Will you encourage members to raise their issues with you or other artists rather than go direct to facebook? Is the group committed to equal opportunity and non discrimination. It seems like you are asking me to compromise my art making and collude with discrimination in endless games of " hide the Willie" . Btw i do appreciate you needed to withdraw my image but you set a dangerous precedent if you don’t confront the group about it.

We do encourage members to speak with us or the artist. We have also stated that we welcome both male and female photographers and models to post their work. I'm not saying compromise your art but to understand the difference in the Audience you are posting and what they are receptive to and the restraints being on FB that the group. Before posting consider how it will be received.

Response from another gay artist after I requested support

Hey Michael,

didn't see the picture and have not heard anything about why it was deleted.  Sometimes though, if admin receive complaints about pictures, (all groups) then they do delete them 

If you want to ask why then I suggest you talk to XXXXbut don't be demanding and just simply ask why and why is it that female nudes are allowed and males are not.

As for being supportive, it is tricky for me for I don't share pictures with full frontal nudity but if a discussion is taking place then I will say what I already said which is, why are some female frontal nudes allowed but not male??

My Observations 

there is tacit acknowledgement  that the group does in fact discriminate against male nudes

I am basically asked to be less gay about the way I make my art 

Support from some other gay artists is lukewarm due to their own decision to hide the penis and fear of losing access to the online group

When my work is controversial there is a tendency to attack it on the grounds it is somehow technically or morally inferior to that of other artists or to confuse it with pornography 

Case study 2  access denied to pubic/public display opportunities

from the administrator where I rent  my studio in a large well known cultural precinct  

 when I proposed to exhibit my work with other artists during the annual Open studios (OS) day
i proposed to hang works that had previously been exhibited at the Daylesford Convent 

>> The naked works are not appropriate for OS in any of the public hanging areas. We do get a lot of families on site that day and we need to be mindful of that. 
>> If the works are in a contained area (eg: in a studio, or in a room at c3) we always warn people/parents of the graphic nature of this style of work in advance  
>> If Eureka hangs these works in his studio, with suitable 'notification' in the corridor outside (so people see same before they come inside,) that is OK

On the surface the comments were reasonable but there net effect delivered a couple of days before the Open studios denied me a valuable sales outlet for my work .

What is missing is a commitment to access and equity, artistic freedom and a timely response for example there are many spaces that could have been cordoned off to allow exhibition of work containing nudity

Case study 3  denied access to a public seminar process due to my work being considered critical of an established religion 

I submitted a proposal to hold a seminar at the Abbotsford Convent to explore how people respond to the abuse of power by clerics using my art works as a discussion starter


Thanks for taking the time to submit your proposal.

I have discussed the concept with our CEO and unfortunately it raises a number of issues. Representing religious matters of this nature onsite can be quite sensitive, as the Sisters are still our neighbours and we have a significant duty of care to be respectful to the women and girls who were based on the site and are still alive.  A number of women were deeply affected by their experiences of being housed here and we need to remain mindful of that. In the past, the ACF has worked with CLAN to provide support, advocacy, research and training in this area but until the remaining women have passed away, matters of this nature remain an area of high sensitivity at the Convent.

Perhaps you should consider redirecting your explorations into developing an art project, perhaps with an artist talk, that explores your themes in a more conceptual way rather than in a conversation series forum.


Again the response seems reasonable but the net result is that my work is still denied an outlet.  The Sisters concerned sold the buildings over 40 years, the site is owned by the people of Victoria where church and state are separated and where there is a Victorian Government Charter of Human Rights guaranteeing freedom from discrimination  see Human Rights Charter

The National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA ) explains my situation exactly 

While the law places limitations or restrictions on freedom of expression by

practitioners there is also the possibility for restrictions or censorship to arise outside

of the legal system: for example, restrictions arising from institutional politics or

complaints by pressure groups, the community or even the opinion of an individual in

a position of power. Left unchallenged these ‘informal’ methods of regulation can be

as restricting as legal constraints by placing limits on the exhibition or publication of

work that is perceived to be offensive or obscene. These pressures can have the
effect of forcing public and private galleries, art publishers and practitioners to censor
themselves. Self-censorship can occur where practitioners prefer not to rock the boat
or believe that if they create controversial work it will not be exhibited or sold.
Also worth considering is the acquisitions strategy of galleries. In the case of public
galleries which receive government funding, it is possible that their acquisition
strategies are self regulated to avoid the possibility of damaging public controversy
which could indirectly jeopardise their funding. Likewise, exhibition programming may
reflect a need for high audience attendance which in turn may encourage
unadventurous programming. This may result in a generally more restrictive climate
where visual art, craft and design on display is predictable, safe and market-tested
(and sometimes politician-tested)

It suggests that 

Art institutions/galleries/funding bodies • Art institutions (including public and private galleries) should endorse freedom of expression by participating in public discourse and supporting any practitioner whose practice is being impugned through restrictive suppression of expression rhetoric. • Art institutions should develop a charter of practice for addressing freedom of expression which would include anticipating or dealing with public outcry. This could take the form of:  endorsing a statement of principles in relation to support for a practitioner’s right to artistic expression o putting in place consultation or reference groups to encourage informed public debate o developing guidelines and practices which can be called upon, if required, to address anticipated or actual expression of public concern about the content or form of an exhibited work. This could short circuit the outcry and unsatisfactory ad hoc censorship o being willing to support and foster art/craft/design which may be considered risky. • If occasion arises, the institution should have a list of appropriate art and legal experts who can be called together to advise on appropriate action at short notice. • Funding bodies should endorse freedom of expression and run funding
programs under the principles of arms length funding

Case study 4 Facebook

This work was removed despite having genitalia covered up, no right of reply or appeal no concession for artistic use or purpose just locked outo my account until I remove this and other potentially naked works from my account.  In religous art pietas frequently contain a naked figure of the dead Jesus his nakedness is an essential part of the greatest pietas, because i use all male figures and I admit the possibility that there bonds maybe multiple in nature and expression I get censored! well here is the work and the pice it was taken from

Case study 5 

Instagram are now arbitrarily censoring my work . i have to resort to self censorship as there is no appeal process and I need instagram to promote my work and recruit models

here are the before and after pics I am now using to comment on their policies

great to see Instagram and Facebook playing the role formerly played by the Inquisition

Case study 6  Arbitrary removal of self censored image from Facebook and account suspension 

Request for assistance from NAVA and their response 

my request Dear Holly 
I have been suspended from Facebook for posting the attached  image .

As part of my practice i develop my works through posting and receiving feedback on line, principally Facebook and Deviantart.  This image is a part of the development of a Midsumma show to be held at the Abbotsford Convent see

In order to meet FB's arbitrarily imposed guidelines I self-censored the work in a humorous way designed to being attention to one of the themes of my exhibition -shame about the male body with a comment "sorry to hide the penis " placed to  cover the genital area 

Facebook locked me out of my account  without any avenue for appeal at a time when I am using FB to promote my life-drawing classes and summer school at the Convent.  As well I had to delete other work that might  conceivably offend their taste in order to even view my account  .I was not given specific feedback about the nature of the offence or an opportunity to modify the work further should I choose to do so 

I have a friend purchasing scarlet silk in Vietnam  for my show - I could read but not reply to her message on Messenger

I would like take the matter up with FB but I fear further recrimination and arbitrary action 

I am wondering  if other artists are experiencing similar problems with Facebook or Instagram and whether NAVA could facilitate networking and collective action on the issue of online artistic freedom? 

There are some specific questions I would like NAVA to put to FB on my behalf 

FB cites community standards as the reason my work was deleted . 

Are these community standards the same throughout the whole world or are they tailor made to reflect national differences in relation to freedom of expression, censorship attitudes to nudity etc ?

Did facebook engage the Australian community in developing the community standards that apply to Australia ? Can they provide details of how this was done please? Specifically did they engage professional artists in the development of the standards? 

Does Facebook acknowledge the principles of procedural fairness and natural justice that inform our legal system and shape citizens' expectations of fairness in  Australia? 

These include 
  • the right to know the nature of the complaint 
  • the identity of the person who made the complaint
  • prior and adequate notice of a decision before it is implemented 
  • the right to appeal an administrative decision to the decision maker
  • the right to a review of the decision by an independent third party  
  • the opportunity to appeal a decision without recrimination 

Would Facebook  consider setting up an independent appeals process for work they deem as inappropriate ?

Would Facebook consider providing an avenue for feedback as to what the nature of the alleged breach of community standards was and an opportunity for the artist to adapt the work should they do so ? 

Note I am not talking  about works that clearly breach state or federal law where Facebook would have a responsibility to act quickly 

FB applies a different standard to photography than it does to painting or sculpture. It discriminates against digital media. I can post a full frontal nude photograph of a scene from the Sistine chapel or a naked sculpture of El Greco's but i can't post my photo-montage that has been exhibited in an art gallery.

Would Facebook consider applying the same standards to "new" media as to  older media ?

Wcan expect that FB will argue that they act on legal advice etc   the problem with this argument is that they clearly apply more rigid standards than other large online providers such as Instagram who are much more liberal in the interpretation of the same laws. The offending image is on Instagram and there is no problem with it 

Give me a call if yo would like to discuss further 

NAVA's response 

There are many report from artists and art lovers around the world having their Facebook accounts disabled due to breaching Facebook’s Community Standards by posting artwork and photographs containing nudity.

Whilst NAVA very much supports your view, unfortunately, we do not have the capacity or resources to tackle Facebook on their processes in relation to restricted content on user pages. This is something that would require action on a global scale.

You can find Facebook’s Community Standards standards here 

Facebook allows nudity in paintings, sculptures and other art that depicts nudes but not photography or video work. This issue has been raised by photographers and media artists many times. The response from Facebook is generally along these lines: Our policy prohibits photos of actual nude people, not paintings or sculptures. We recognize that this policy might in some cases result in the removal of artistic works; however, it is designed to ensure Facebook remains a safe, secure and trusted environment for all users.

There are also many instances where Facebook has chosen to remove images of paintings and sculptures, including ones that are exhibited in museums around the world, even if they comply with Community Standards. The following articles may be of interest.
Instagram does have a very similar policy regarding nudity You may find that if the image posted on your Instagram account is reported, your account will be disabled.

Thank you for sharing your experience with us. We would dearly love to be able to take this on. It is an area that NAVA will continue to take a strong interest in.

On 28 September 2016 at 09:01, Michael O'Hanlon <> wrote:

Case study 7 SUCCESS

After extensive and prolonged negotiations and information from NAVA I was finally allowed to have an exhibition Scarlatta here at the Abbotsford Convent as part of Midsumma 2017 

The cafe sponsor of the gallery,  Cameron Miller  provided the circuit breaker by agreeing to build a demount-able wall that adapted one of the two spaces in the St Heliers gallery to make it suitable for showing more challenging work and for events such as  a live nude performance and a life-drawing session. I agreed to follow the NAVA recommended guidelines and processes for showing challenging work

Thanks you to Cam's Cafe, Tenacy at the Convent  and NAVA for making it possible to express myself as an artist.
Here is a quote from the new Convent CEO expressing satisfaction with the outcome

 I also want to congratulate you once again on a great exhibition. What I really enjoyed, alongside the quality of the work, was the public program you created. So many layers that brought new audiences into the Convent. Our team were thrilled working with you and very much appreciated having the strength of your program to promote and engage with.

Supports for artists fighting censorship of their work

1. The National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA ) is a member based organisation for Australian artists .

It has a factsheet

Their advice includes the following

Display warning signs - Galleries and other exhibition

spaces should know when and how to alert the public about a controversial work, and how to prepare a warning sign for display at short notice. A sign need not contain a detailed description. But it should be prominently displayed near the entrance to the exhibition space. It might say that a work (or works)in an exhibition depicts actions or objects which some members of the public might find offensive or disturbing

• Explain contentious works – Galleries, exhibiting  bodies and art publishers should have ready a written or rehearsed statement about what a contentious work is attempting to say. Artists should be ready to prepare such statements if requested. The statement might explain how the artist’s ideas have developed, what has prompted the artist’s concerns, and how the creative process evolved. This will not satisfy every critic. But it may reassure moderate and fair-minded people that the work has a serious purpose and was not merely intended to shock. It will help people understand how artists work and form their ideas.

• Respect religious feelings – If something is likely to offend members of any faith, they can be invited to prepare a brief statement, for posting or collection in the exhibition space, explaining why their adherents find the work offensive and saying something about the tenets of their faith in general

The Arts Law Centre of Australia may be able to help you with a problem, or refer you to a lawyer in your area who can assist you. The website has information sheets and articles covering many areas of law and the arts. 

3. if all else fails consider a complaint to the Victorian Equal Opportunity Commission

Make a complaint to the Commission

If you think you have been discriminated againstsexually harassedvictimised or vilified, contact us and talk about your concerns. Our dispute resolution service is free and confidential. We can send you information about the complaint process and if we can’t help you we will try to refer you to someone who cam


Lines are open 9am–5pm Monday to Friday
Phone: 1300 891 848
TTY: 1300 289 621
or submit your complaint online

I continue to have my work censored by Facebook and Instagram arbitrarily without any discussion or appeal and including punishment such as being banned from the service

while generally Instagram are more tolerant than Facebook  this picture was banned  yesterday and i was locked out for several hours with -no opportunity to appeal

here is the image that was banned - notice my reluctant self censorship
strange because this image wasn't banned
I will try one again to get my artists union to take up this issue on behalf of queer artists

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