21st Century Nudes

Without freedom of speech there is no modern world, just a barbaric one.

Ai Weiwei

21st Century Nudes

From Ancient Greek sculptures, to Renaissance paintings, to black and white photography, nudity has long played an important role in art.  The significance of nudity in art can be traced all the way back to 800 B.C., in Ancient Greece, where “athletic competitions at religious festivals celebrated the human body” (Sorabella, 2008). Today, social media offers a new platform through which artists can display their art; however, certain policies prove to be controversial as many artists continue to run into barriers.

Social media has taken the world by storm. Breaking the barriers of time and space, it has allowed for instant communication with friends and family across the globe.  According to the 2018 Digital Media Report, there are just under 3.2 billion active social media users around the world, that’s about 80% of all internet users. Facebook continues to hold the top spot for social media network with the most active accounts, sharing the podium with Youtube and Instagram.  Social media’s exponential growth can be attributed to their encouragement of participatory culture. Social networks, like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, thrive on user-generated content. These huge media companies have created the platform through which it’s users both consume and generate content. In addition, these companies reward those who participate in regularly creating content, and interacting with other users.

For many, social media is a tool for users to grow their network, as well as a platform for self expression. However, many of these platforms have caused controversies in the art world.  In 2016, the iconic 1972 image of a young Vietnamese girl fleeing Napalm bombings was removed from Facebook, as it was reported for not abiding by community standards. This photograph received Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography; yet, it was still censored for its nudity, raising questions about Facebook’s censorship policies and processes.  While Facebook’s content is users-generated, it is also user-monitored, giving the power to its users to report anything they deem offensive.  Still, people were enraged by this censorship, and took to the platform to share the very same photo, almost taunting Facebook to remove it. Within hours, Facebook had reinstated the photograph, issuing an apology soon after.

Vancouver-based photographer, best-selling author, and filmmaker Vince Hemingson is all too aware of social media’s hypersensitivity when it comes with nudity and art.  His most recent photography series, Nudes in the Landscape, captures the gentle beauty of the human body against the powerful and natural backdrop of the Pacific Northwest; The Tree of Life received Gold in the 2018 Tokyo International Foto Awards (TIFA) in the Fine Arts category.  By sharing a screenshot of the successful photograph and announcing this achievement, Hemingson received his 25th thirty-day ban.  In a recent open letter to the censors of Instagram and Facebook, Hemingson implores Instagram and Facebook to revise their policies:

Stop censoring ART. ART is what makes a community. Art celebrates community. Fine art nudes do not violate community standards. Censoring art is what violates community standards. Censorship is intellectual violence. Censorship is repression. – Vince Hemingson

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, admitted to the mistake of censoring the historical Vietnam Terror of War photograph, in his 2017 Building a Community letter stating, “In the last year, the complexity of the issues we’ve seen has outstripped our existing process for governing the community”.  Indeed, technology is advancing at such a rapid rate, it is difficult for lawmakers to keep up. As a result, companies such as these have made an effort to outline their sometimes not-so-clear rules and policies in their Terms and Conditions, which any user must accept in order to create an account.

The larger implications of this issue is that many contemporary artists are unable to take advantage of social media in the same way as others.

Gabriella Mas, #NoFilter: The Censorship of Artistic Nudity on Social Media

Despite these rules, many artists still feel at a disadvantage.  There have been many accounts of artists posting images that abide by Facebook’s Community Standards yet are still removed for having “violated” them.  This is especially disconcerting when social media influencers, such as Kim Kardashian, post sexually-explicit images on these platforms without any reprimand. Contrary to today’s hyper-sexualized media, art undresses the shame and humility from the naked body and reveals unperverted beauty that comes with it. The solution here would not be to suspend Kim Kardashian’s account, but rather enforce an equal platform through which all artists alike can make their work visible.  


Ancient greece. (2018, September 3). Retrieved from https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/ancient-greece

Da Silva, J. (2018, May 14). Instagram deletes photographer Dragana Jurisic’s account and Facebook censors her work. Retrieved from https://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/photographer-dragana-jurisic-has-instagram-account-closed-down-and-work-censored-on-facebook

Facebook. (2019). Community standards. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/communitystandards/

Gold winner – The tree of life. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.tokyofotoawards.jp/winners/tokyo/2018/4415/

Hemingson, V. (n.d.). About Vince – Hemingson Photography. Retrieved from http://hemingsonphotography.com/about-vince/

Kemp, S. (2018). We are social – Digital report 2018. Retrieved from https://digitalreport.wearesocial.com/

Mas, G. (2017). #NoFilter: The censorship of artistic nudity on social media. Retrieved from https://openscholarship.wustl.edu/law_journal_law_policy/vol54/iss1/24

Photographer Nick Ut: The napalm girl. (1972, June 8). Retrieved from http://www.apimages.com/Collection/Landing/Photographer-Nick-Ut-The-Napalm-Girl-/ebfc0a860aa946ba9e77eb786d46207e

Scott, M., & Isaac, M. (2017, December 21). Facebook restores iconic Vietnam war photo it censored for nudity. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/10/technology/facebook-vietnam-war-photo-nudity.html

Sorabella, J. (2008, January). The nude in Western art and its beginnings in Antiquity. Retrieved from https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/nuan/hd_nuan.htm

Zuckerberg, M. (2017, February 16). Building global community. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/notes/mark-zuckerberg/building-global-community/10154544292806634/

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