Queen's pulls student's underwear art - Macleans.ca

Queen’s pulls student’s underwear art

David Woodward’s artwork was deemed ‘inappropriate.’ The university’s reaction raises concerns about free speech.


David Woodward

Queen’s University student David Woodward’s final project All I Am Is What I’ve Felt got the type of reaction many new Bachelor of Fine Arts graduates dream about: he was asked to take it down, meaning far more people will now see it.

Woodward, 22, was not surprised his work — 10 white briefs adorned with cryptic slogans and images, some of them sexual — offended people. Still, he didn’t expect to be censored. He says the work is autobiographical and discusses “the limitations of romantic love.”

It has also stimulated discussion about the limits on freedom of expression at campuses like Queen’s where some employees get carried away in their mission to avoid offending anyone.

Here’s what happened. Woodward was asked by his campus alumni office, along with other visual artists and musicians, to show off his work to potential donors at an event in April. He forwarded a link to a website that showed his product. On the big day, he arrived early and hung his undies.

The organizers looked uncomfortable. Then a few women approached him and said they had some “very serious concerns.” They said the work was “inappropriate” and pointed to the f-word. (One pair, the most racy, reads: “only the freedom to f–k the whole world.”) He was told to take it down.

You can see their point. They probably pictured a white-haired old woman so scandalized that she stuffs her cheque book back into her purse. Then again, it’s not nearly as controversial as some student art. New York’s Marc Bradley Johnson’s project Take This Sperm and Be Free of Me, invited guests to literally take his semen. An art student in Calgary recently beheaded a chicken.

That’s not the point. What’s worrisome is that if the organizers had more closely screened Woodward’s work, they might not have invited him. That’s a shame. Art is meant to start a conversation and universities are supposed to be a place where uncomfortable questions can be debated.

Woodward agrees. “When we’re in a situation that’s uncomfortable,” he says. “We have to ask, why is this a trigger for me? If you look in the mirror a lot of interesting answers can be found.”

The good news is that Tom Harris, Queen’s vice-principal (advancement), and a superior to those who censored the artist, quickly sided with Woodward and apologized to him over the phone.

The bad news is that not everyone at Queen’s has yet grasped the repercussions of censorship, even after high-profile gaffes like that time campus security officers tore down a free speech wall.


Queen’s pulls student’s underwear art

  1. All right, all right don’t get your knickers in a twist …

  2. the next tracey emin?

  3. Queen’s U. is an ongoing self-parody.
    Actually, here’s the ironic part. The title of this artist’s show is pure, unadulterated, man-hating feminism. Which makes his installation a show of trendy self-hatred, and one which all of Transgressive, therefore, approved, Queen’s can applaud.

  4. “inappropriate”
    This must be the crappiest word in the English Language. It is a word with the soul of the intolerant and those that use it are usually pearl clutchers extraordinaire. Every time I hear someone say it I cringe and know that I’m about to encounter one of the professionally offended.

    • Are you aware that people who go around accusing other people of being pearl clutchers are now among the professionally offended?

      • “I am rubber, you are glue, whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks on you.” elevated to a philosophy.

        Wow when do you finish middle school?

  5. Seriously? I’ve read the slogans (they’re all on the artist’s website) and the only one that’s potentially offensive is the one quoted above – the rest are, at worst, innuendos (“fisherman’s friend”, “you think. & love”, “I can’t make you”) and the underwear appears to be clean.

    I don’t see what the fuss is… if this was women’s underwear in an exhibition staged by a woman and featuring slogans relevant to women’s sexual issues then we’d most definitely be embracing it.

  6. Must have been a wedgie issue for Queen’s. Amazing that universities can still be so prudish when it comes to public art displays.

  7. Who gets to define “uncomfortable questions”? Are there “uncomfortable questions” that go too far or are off limits? Are honest answers, regardless which side they fall on, to why something makes us “uncomfortable” acceptable or must we then be reeducated if our answer falls outside a certain mode of thinking? What did the artist mean by “only the freedom to f— the whole world” (sexual or non-sexual)? So many questions.

  8. Mona Art Gallery in Hobart,Tasmania, Au. would likely welcome Woodward’s art.