Orchard Artworks, a Bryn Athyn, PA art gallery, removed six works by Linda Griffith from an exhibit that opened September 21, 2001. The work was considered "too political" for the gallery.
The exhibit, "Uncertain Future: Earth Found, Used and Abused," focused on environment issues. Griffith's photographs committed the sin of bringing issues of environment abuse too close to home. The photographs depict local scenes of environmental devastation, including tree stumps on land cleared for development in Lower Moreland, a dead deer by the side of the road in Bryn Athyn, a digitally manipulated image of the Limerick nuclear power plant engulfed in flames, and an image—originally titled Republican Pro-Life—of a blood-filled toilet bowl swallowing up a tiny Earth. (The censored photographs by Linda Griffith can be viewed online at www.lindagriffith.com. If you would like to view to Linda's images directly, please visit http://lindagriffith.com/censorship.html)
Orchard Artworks, founded with the purpose of providing "a supportive cooperative fellowship for artists and craftspeople" is housed in a 250-year-old building owned by the Bryn Athyn Cathedral. It was renovated with private donations raised by a corporation created for that purpose and pays a nominal rent. Tracy Cass, director of the gallery, said the decision to remove the photographs was made after complaints from several people and an "agonizing meeting" of board members. Several board members went to the pastor of the Bryn Athyn Cathedral, the Rev. Thomas Kline, to express their concerns. Mr. Kline told them that the church is "apolitical" and did not approve of the display of art of a political nature but did not order the removal of the artworks, which he had not seen. Neither would he have had the authority to do so: given that the organization is not church owned, but only leasing a building belonging to the Bryn Athyn's New Church, the regulations that apply to church-owned property cannot apply to Artworks unless they are included in the terms of the lease.
It is, moreover, hard to imagine how an exhibit on the environment could be entirely apolitical. In fact, "Uncertain Future: Earth Found, Used and Abused," is especially relevant precisely because it has political significance, i.e. it directly relates to what we care about in the world today. What is happening with the environment is disturbing to many people concerned about the future of the planet. Is that a reason not to have a discussion of the issues involved? Or is a discussion only acceptable when it stays away from the immediate issues a community faces?
It was not the first time Griffith's work had been censored by Orchard Artworks. At the gallery opening in May, she hung three photographs taken at a 1976 Women's Conference but was asked to take them down because one of the captions referred to a vigil for lesbian rights and the word "lesbian" was an unmentionable in the community.
The idea behind Orchard Artworks—to have a space run cooperatively by artists—is wonderful. At NCAC, we would have liked to believe the artists involved value creative freedom no less than the possibility to directly profit from their work. And, indeed, the gallery's Policy Statement contains no clause excluding art making a political statement. A space collectively operated by artists should be a place where creative expression would thrive without fear of saying the wrong thing, where a variety of voices could be heard, and where topical issues could be explored in depth.
In the present time of national crisis protecting the freedom to express opinions—even political ones—is more important than ever. We hope Orchard Artworks reconsiders its practices.
The Orchard Artworks website is located at www.orchardartworks.org.
For more information contact:
Svetlana Mintcheva, Arts Advocacy Coordinator
National Coalition Against Censorship