Recently, an art student’s work was censored at Mill River Union High School because the content of the art project made some people “uncomfortable.” The student, Ms. Zarfati-Eirmann, had designed her advanced-placement senior art project for months, reportedly seeking approval at every step.
According to the Rutland Herald, the project was a thoughtful examination of a Japanese form of knot-tying, Shibari. The technique is now used for deep-pressure therapy, but was formerly used to confine prisoners. And, there’s the rub.
Zarfati-Eirmann made an intellectual leap and recognized a metaphor for the suppression of women, and she depicted girls bound in the elaborate knotted strands.
This was a good moment to teach students not only about art’s societal role as provocateur, but also about the protections our U.S. Constitution provides for the free expression of creative thought, even if it is “uncomfortable.”
Also, this would have been the time for critical thinking about art. Is the metaphor valid and recognizable, is the work skilled, does the artist use her/his medium with expertise, is the research solid? Whether the viewer likes the subject of the art is not relevant. Disagree all you want, but, at the same time understand the significance of suppressing ideas, and watch your step.
However, instead of a critical conversation, something else transpired. In a particularly ironic twist, a work of art made by a young woman about the suppression of women was censored by a man, Principal Tyler Weideman, when he made the decision to move the project away from the exhibit, explaining that the subject was not appropriate for a public school.
In my opinion, artistic thought and product should be considered, honored, encouraged, and yes, argued over.
School is the perfect place for this to happen.