Photos courtesy of Dulce Romero and montclair.edu
The month of May is usually full of celebration, senior recitals and showcases, but one group of students felt “censored” after they were stopped from using a non-traditional picture to advertise a showcase.
Every year, the graduating BFA class is asked to take a picture to announce their end-of-year exhibition, which this year took place after the College of the Arts convocation ceremony on May 18. However, the seniors received a notice from Dean Daniel Gurskis’ office from the College of the Arts, stating that they were not permitted to put their photograph on the university’s website.
“They contacted our professor Catherine Bebout and we were carbon copied to the stream that Dean Gurskis did not want to use the image on the Montclair State University website to announce our Thesis exhibition,” said BFA graduating senior Dulce Avila Romero.
The original photograph was of BFA seniors Romero, Stephen Saliba, Maxwell Mittman, Tyler Babey and Alicia Ferreira posing nude, but behind art pieces they’ve spent the year working on. According to Romero, they were influenced by renowned photographer Richard Alvedon’s Factory photographs and wanted to re-create them with each other.
“Instead of being completely nude, we decided to hold up pieces of our art that we have been working on,” said Romero. “We chose to do so because it is for our show and it is also symbolic of how our art protects us while also making us vulnerable to an audience.”
According to Romero, the students felt that the Dean’s office was trying to censor their photo, but Dean Gurskis assured the students that this was not the case. “In the University, and specifically here in [the College of the Arts], we are very much against any kind of suppression of information or censorship. If you went to see Hair, you would have heard some interesting, provocative language. In the BFA show in the gallery, they are free to do whatever they want. The President supports this and I support this.”
Dean Gurskis explained that the distinction lies in what gets posted on the university’s website. “If they wanted to put that in the gallery as part of the show they could do that, but the university is under no obligation to put anything on its website,” said Dean Gurskis.
When it comes to web content, the Office of Advancement can accept or reject anything for any reason. The university website is different because it is a communication tool for the university. “The photo that they wanted to use for publicity is not protected speech in that situation,” said Dean Gurskis. “We felt it was not appropriate for the branding of the university and that’s really what the website is for.”
The graduating class was not given any specific guidelines for the photograph beforehand. According to Romero, a BFA photography student usually takes the photograph, but this year a faculty member took the photo. Additionally, the students had support of taking the photo from Catherine Bebout (head of BFA/BA and Printmaking Department), Julie Heffernan (BFA Advisor and Painting Department Head), Klaus Schnitzer (Photography Department Head) and several MFA students.
According to Dean Gurskis, there haven’t been guidelines in the past since there has never been a sensitive issue like this one.
The BFA students took another photo to replace the original, but still feel that they were slighted for not being able to use their original idea. “We do not understand why it was censored because any ‘offensive’ body part was covered,” said Romero. “It was a collective idea to recreate Avedon’s photograph and there is meaning behind it. Students should be allowed to express themselves. It is not the first time the Art and Design department has seen a photograph of someone nude.”