A painting of a female nude will go back up in a California library after the intervention of NCAC’s Arts Advocacy Project.
In late April, the Norman Feldheym Central Library in San Bernardino opened an art exhibition in conjunction with the Inland Empire Latino Art Association. Soon after the opening, Rose Loya’s “Free Spirit Fairy” was removed, apparently because it was deemed “inappropriate.”
As NCAC pointed out in an email to the library, the removal of the piece raised serious constitutional concerns:
The U.S. Supreme Court has specifically declared that simple representations of nudity are a constitutionally protected form of artistic expression. As the Court has noted multiple times, “‘nudity alone’ does not place otherwise protected material outside the mantle of the First Amendment.” Schad v. Mount Ephraim (1981), Jenkins v. Georgia (1974), Osborne v. Ohio (1990).
San Bernardino Deputy City Attorney Steven Graham responded on May 4. He stressed that while the library “has a strong interest in protecting freedom of speech,” the library’s position is that “ensuring the visual space of a building specifically aimed towards children is age-appropriate is a legitimate state interest.”
Really? Children see artistic representations of nudes in every museum, as well as in public spaces. Adults, possibly shamed about their own thoughts and fantasies, may occasionally be embarrassed, but if anyone can look at a nude and not see an issue, it is a child.
San Bernardino officials must have recognized the thinness of the legal ice they were treading on. Citing a “desire to avoid the expense of litigation,” they allowed the painting to be restored to the exhibition.
This is not the first time that nudes have caused controversy in San Bernardino. In late 2013, an exhibition at the San Bernardino County Government Center celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month included three paintings of nudes. All three were removed by city government officials.
NCAC and the ACLU of Southern California sent a letter to the city arguing that government officials “cannot arbitrarily impose their prejudices on a curated exhibition,” and that “courts have time and again reaffirmed that the First Amendment prohibits public officials from censoring art they find offensive or provocative.” In late November the ACLU of Southern California filed suit; shortly thereafter two of the paintings were restored to the government building.
So this is what you might call yet another salvo in the San Bernardino government’s war on nude paintings. Thankfully, artistic freedom keeps winning.