Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Banned by Instagram: Matthew Stone's Pussy Riot protest

matthew stone via showstudio

We first met enigmatic British multi-disciplinary artist, writer, musician, DJ - oh, and shaman - Matthew Stone in 2007 backstage at Gareth Pugh. Stone is a graduate of the Camberwell College of Arts and a co-founder of the Peckham art collective !WOWOW! and his work has been exhibited all over the world. Over the past 18 months, moreover, he has crossed over into commercial fashion photography. Stone's work appears on the cover of this month's i-D magazine and within weeks, as we originally revealed, his advertising campaign for Jean Paul Gaultier's Kokorico fragrance – starring a naked Andrej Pejic – will land. But none of this appears to have impressed hipster photo app Instagram, which censored Stone's NSFW artwork in support of jailed Russian feminist punk rock outfit Pussy Riot.

Although overlooked thus far due to all the London 2012 Olympics hoo-haa, on August 10th, Stone took to Twitter (here), to lament that his protest Pussy Riot protest poster had been "banned from Instagram". He included an upload of the image and, subsequently, a link to a highres version. 

Stone's intriguing artwork, which is captioned "FREE PUSSY RIOT", features a close-up image of two naked bodies, one lying on top of the other. The lower body is clearly that of a woman as the image shows a close-up detail of her pubic area. Sure, it's NSFW, but the shot is carefully art-directed to reveal only a minimum of anatomical detail. 

The gender of the second person in the image is unclear, as the only discernible details are the upper arm, an unshaved armpit and a portion of the torso. It's a clever trompe l'oeil. Due to the position of the arm and the skinfolds of the armpit, the illusion of another naked female crotch is created. All too much for Instagram it seems. 

Stone was attempting to join a solidarity movement that has rallied in support of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Alyokhina (below), three members of the balaclava-clad Russian feminist art collective, who face a maximum seven year prison sentence after reciting a "punk prayer" to help oust president Vladimir Putin inside Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral on February 21st. 

The trio was arrested in March, charged with hooliganism on the grounds of religious hatred and have been detained for six months without bail – drawing comparisons to Stalin-era repression. Dubbed prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International, the trio has attracted support from the global creative community, including Madonna, Sting, Patti Smith, Yoko Ono and even London's Royal Court Theatre, which is planning to recite readings of their translated testimonies this coming Friday, when a verdict is expected.

reuters via factmag.com

Just three weeks ago, ironically, when Dazed Digital posted a gallery of Stone's Instagram art, Stone told DD: "Putting artworks online is as important as putting them in a museum". 

But as Stone has now discovered, although freedom of speech might be sacred to any museum, it's not necessarily enshrined in the terms of service of private social media outfits.  

"While we respect the artistic integrity of photos, we have to keep our product and the photos within it in line with our App Store’s rating for nudity and mature content. In other words, please do not post nudity or mature content of any kind".
And Instagram shares common censorship ground with its new parent Facebookwhose own TOS note that:
"You will not post content that is: hate speech, threatening or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence".
As widely lamented by breastfeeding mothers who routinely have content depicting themselves mid-nurse removed by Facebook.  

And what about Twitter?

Twitter's Terms of Service are a little more laissez-faire: 
"We may, but have no obligation to, remove Content and accounts containing Content that we determine in our sole discretion are unlawful, offensive, threatening, libelous, defamatory, obscene or otherwise objectionable or violates any party's intellectual property or these Terms of Use".

When all is said and done on Friday and Pussy Riot either head back to the gulag for another stint or, perhaps, walk away free women - fielding a plethora of book, television and movie deals - just a reminder that 35 years ago the BBC banned The Sex Pistols' anthem God Save The Queen and a number of associated parties were arrested (although not detained) after they attempted to launch the single on a barge on the Thames, during the Queen's Silver Jubilee celebrations. 

With God Save The Queen re-released in time for this year's Diamond Jubilee and The Sex Pistols warmly embraced in the 2012 London Olympics Opening Ceremony - not forgetting the broadcasting of the Monty Python lyric "Life's a piece of shit" to hundreds of millions during Sunday's Closing Ceremony - good to see the Brits have since regained their sense of humour. 

The Russians and Americans, not so much apparently.  


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