In either a promising shift for artists everywhere or a reinforcement of the inconsistency of the platform’s rules, Instagram has reversed its censorship of the poster for Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film, Madres Paralelas, which shows an image of a lactating nipple. The National Coalition Against Censorship applauds this reversal and calls on Instagram to apply this same standard to all artistic content on the platform.

Instagram and its algorithms have long confused and dismayed artists whose work depicts the human body. Instagram bans nudity, including female nipples, in photography (including artistic photography) and its algorithms frequently struggle to distinguish between photography and photorealistic painting. In addition to guidelines that artists and free expression advocates argue constrain artistic expression, Instagram’s process for appealing content removal decisions can be onerous and ineffective for many artists without direct connections within the company.

The recent censorship of the promotional poster for Pedro Almodóvar’s new film Madres Paralelas, starring Penelope Cruz, was in line with Instagram’s published rules. But the image was restored to the platform with an apology from Instagram, as reported by the Associated Press, that would make many artists very happy: “We do… make exceptions to allow nudity in certain circumstances, which includes when there’s clear artistic context.” 


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To be clear: NCAC is all for Instagram displaying Almodóvar’s movie poster. Perhaps it is time for the company to finally begin to recognize artistic context as we have urged for years, in both We the Nipple, a large-scale art action, and Don’t Delete Art, an international collaboration including a gallery of art censored on social media, advocacy campaign and resource center for artists struggling with social media censorship.

Frequently censored artist Savannah Spirit said, “I want to say this is a great development, but I’ll have to keep self-censoring until they allow all artistic nudes not just the ones they deem famous enough.”

Unfortunately, most artists are not Pedro Almodóvar or Penelope Cruz, and the context of their art is not considered when their photographic content is censored. Trans artists and feminist artists are disproportionately affected by Instagram’s anti-nudity policy. But even well-known artists with large museum retrospectives (like Carolee Schneemann and Laure Albin-Guillot) are censored. 

NCAC urges Instagram to apply its “exceptions to allow nudity in certain circumstances” to all artists, no matter their level of fame.