What You Need to Know: Unit London presents “Sensitive Content,” a group show featuring artists that have all dealt with censorship in one form or another in their careers—due either to confronting taboos or expressing progressive views and attitudes on themes such as sex and politics in their work. The exhibition, which is open through October 16, 2022, and runs concurrently with Frieze London, is curated by art historians Alayo Akinkugbe and Maria Elena Buszek with artist Helen Beard, who has work included in the exhibition. Surveying censored artworks and artworks that address censorship from the 1940s through today, the show features work by 19 artists—from Betty Tompkins to Pussy Riot—and a full range of media, including painting, collage, photography, video, and more.
Why We Like It: Art plays a special role in the advancement of cultural norms and progressive ideals, and as such it is often the target of those who seek to preserve the status quo. “Sensitive Content” spotlights the art and artists that boldly confront and challenge pervasive preconceived notions around subjects like sex, identity, government power, and more. Even censorship itself is addressed, such as in the work of Mauro C. Martinez. Tapping into the social-media vernacular, in Sensitive Content No. 34 (2022), Martinez overlays a sexually explicit image with Instagram’s widely recognizable sensitive content warning, which blurs the image until users click “See Photo.” Renee Cox’s Yo Mama’s Last Supper (1996) depicts the last supper with 12 Black apostles and the nude artist herself in the place of Jesus, a criticism of the Catholic church’s domination by white men. Shown at the Brooklyn Museum in 2001, then New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani decried its exhibition and called for a commission to be appointed to enforce “decency standards.” Together, the works shown in “Sensitive Content” offer historical and contemporary vantages of the ways censorship has and can affect creative expression—and the ways artists are pushing back.
According to the Gallery: “The work in this exhibition tracks what has and hasn’t changed in terms of ‘objectionable’ imagery since the rise of post-World War II civil rights movements. Whether blocked by government censors or A.I., the artists chosen for exhibition in ‘Sensitive Content’ have all faced censorship in their careers—not necessarily due to the prurient or agitational nature of their work, but more often because their marginalized perspectives on sex, beauty, and politics confuse or threaten the dominant narratives on these topics.” —Maria Elena Buszek, co-curator