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Painting Pulled From Exhibition Because of “Disgusting” Pubic Hair

No sex please, we're British: Artist Leena McCall's semi-nude female portrait was removed from a London gallery to protect "children and vulnerable adults"

When artist Leena McCall got the phone call she was “pretty pissed off.” On the other end of the line was a representative from the Society of Women Artists who had rung to inform her that her painting had just been pulled from their group show at London’s Mall Galleries for being “too pornographic and disgusting.”

The work in question, Portrait of Ms. Ruby May, Standing, is an oil painting of the artist’s friend. In it, May, dressed in a fur-trimmed vest and pants, unbuttoned to reveal a strip of pubic hair, smokes a pipe while looking directly at the viewer.

The revealing Portrait of Ms. Ruby May, Standing lasted all of three days in London's Mall Galleries before it was taken down for being “too pornographic and disgusting.”

Leena McCall

The gallery, run by the Federation of British Artists, claims to have received complaints about the painting and “as an educational arts charity, the Federation has a responsibility to its Trustees and to the children and vulnerable adults who use its Galleries and Learning Centre.” They didn’t offer an explicit explanation as to why McCall’s portrait was deemed pornographic, but the pubic hair seems to be a sticking point. The fact that it was replaced by another female nude leads McCall to believe that there’s even more behind the censoring of her work.

“I genuinely think it’s because Ruby meets your gaze. She’s not a shy, timid woman; it’s not pornography in the sense of ‘Here I am, come and get me!’ It’s very much an equal gaze and that was the whole purpose of the painting,” she tells Vocativ. “We had a lot of different poses and tried a lot of different things and what I liked about this one is that she’s your equal, she’s there.”

McCall (pictured) says her friendship with May has "been a real confidence-booster in terms of what women can be and perhaps should be in terms of their self-confidence and their sexuality."

Leena McCall

McCall was invited to submit another piece but declined the offer (“I do have some still lifes with one or two sex toys in them,” she jokes). She says doing so would be tantamount to agreeing that the original painting was indecent. Instead, she’s launched a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #eroticcensorship, and is encouraging people to discuss the work and the ensuing controversy.

“The whole point of the piece is what Ruby May has to say about her sexuality. I’m trying to get people talking about it,” she says. “So by removing that artwork you’re effectively removing the opportunity for people to look at it and discuss it. But with a Twitter hashtag campaign, I thought at least we can try and discuss the topic in a different forum.”

People have rallied behind McCall on Twitter, using the hashtag #eroticcensorship

Warmed by the generous response from strangers who are rallying behind her work and condemning the actions of Mall Galleries, McCall is planning an open studio event so people can view the portrait and engage in discussion. She also has tentative plans to launch her own group show, which will include artists whose work explores female sexuality and eroticism.

“I’m actually really rather happy that this has happened because it’s proved to me, in terms of the artwork and the topics I’m trying to address through it, that there is a debate to be had,” she says. “It obviously does trigger responses from people. And I’m really interested to see where that debate goes.”

Respond Now
  • There is nothing disgusting about it.  It is a fine piece of art.  Shame on the gallery for pulling it.

  • la guerre C pas beau les femmes sont trop belle

  • rien à dire afin que je suis avec pour est tout contre les femmes

  • Oh get a life.  They are fighting in Iraq, Syria, Israel and Palestine.  Russia has annexed Crimea. Obama shows incompetence at home and aborad. In Nigeria women have been captured and some likely sold in slavery by Boko Haram. Who cares whether someone doesn’t like pubic hair or does like pubic hair.  Personally I like the idea of the painting, but the execution is not to my taste.  But I don’t care. Neither should you.

    2 Replies - Reply Now
    • Ellen, you fucking rock! Couldn’t say it better.

    • Ohhh look at you, being too enlightened for reading an article about an artist’s painting. People have always fought and had wars, you expect everyone in the world to just stop until everyone calls peace? Rather than reading this article, what should people be doing to stop these wars? Why did you bother commenting? Didn’t that take time away from your efforts of world peace?

  • I like it.  Women have hair, well unless we go through the trouble of shaving it all off. Children and adults need to learn this. I promise no one is going to be premently damaged by know that there is hair down there. Though I really don’t find this piece erotic.

  • For those opposed to the museum’s decision: Is there a painting of a male who is portrayed in an equally sexualized and empowered manner as the woman in this painting is ? If there is, it’s probably very hard to find. I’m going to be so bold as to say that it doesn’t exist outside of the context of pornography. So, the museum does have a point there. To me, this painting just reinforces the whole idea of a woman being viewed for her sexuality. Everything about this woman reads concubine OR femme fatale. Not very revolutionary at all in concept. Males have perpetuated the sexually available archetype time and time again, within the context of pornography and advertisement; the femme fatale in film noir. Personally, I don’t see why a woman should ever have to rely on this image as an empowring image for herself. The fashion references a specific time of the modern era in which women had the least amount of rights and respect: The hair, the make-up, the heels, the visibility of her breasts and vagina are all staples of a man’s idea of a “real” woman. For me, this is the reason why the painting was pulled. The contradictory message is that while this archetype says “I’m a badass and don’t need a man” – she dresses and composes herself for the male gaze. I’d like to see a completely natural, undone woman in an empowering stance – not your typical pinup.As for the pubic hair, it’s ridiculous that it is seen as “disgusting”. It’s no different than a man’s pubic hair. The is the least interseting aspect of the painting.

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  • the same people that demanded this be removed go home to watch some fe tish po rn they really enjoy. the ones that are vocal against this kinda stuff are the exact ones who do the dirtiest things behind closed doors. pathetic.

  • As a fellow artist (and McCall) that gets in trouble with censors who lack perspective, I applaud your continuing effort to show the work.  Outrageous doesn’t quite describe of stupid this situation is. Anyone that deems this work pornography has no business in a gallery, because the work is clearly wasted on their intellect.  Keep painting, Leena.

  • Art is an expression of the moment, London Gallery I’m disgusted that you pull this out and you support gross art.  May not be to everyones taste but it is an expression, like Marmite either you like it or you don’t.

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