The photograph titled “Janine Eight Months Pregnant” is part of photographer Angela Strassheim's “Focused on Family” exhibit that is currently at the Museum of Contemporary Art and includes a nude pregnant woman reclining on a couch in the late afternoon sunlight.
City Council President Clay Yarborough started a firestorm in the arts community last Tuesday when he emailed Mayor Alvin Brown's Chief of Staff, Chris Hand, demanding that the funding that MOCA receives indirectly from the city through the Cultural Council be pulled due to the photograph. In his email, Yarborough claimed the subject of the photograph was "laying in a questionable position" and called it an "inappropriate, pornographic display."
When Strassheim looks at the photograph she sees it quite differently. Strassheim told The Financial News and Daily Record “I see an intimate moment of a nude, very pregnant woman basking in the last bit of afternoon sunlight as she waits for the birth of her child.” She was "quite shocked" to hear that Yarborough labeled her photograph "pornography."
Jacksonville artist Thony Aiuppy agrees that the photograph is not in any way pornographic. In his editorial in Metro Jacksonville, Auippy said "The young woman posed isn't inciting the viewer to participate in any illicit act, whether mentally, emotionally or physically. This artwork is neither gratuitous nor obscene. The nude in art has been incorporated for millennia and has allowed the viewer to understand all stations of life."
The art community and art supporters quickly took to social media using the hashtag #IStandWithMOCA to protest Yarborough's actions which many called a violation of the First Amendment. Denise Reagan, communications manager at MOCA and former editor of Folio Weekly tweeted:
— Denise Reagan (@denisereagan) November 27, 2014
Former City of Jacksonville Director of Communications Abel Harding posted the following on Twitter:
— Abel Harding (@AbelHarding) November 27, 2014
Council President Clay Yarborough gave WJCT the following statement on the condition that it be kept intact and in its entirety, exactly as he sent it:
In order to get to Café Nola, one must enter the doors of the government-owned building in which MOCA is housed because there is no other way through which the public can access the restaurant. Upon entering the doors of MOCA last Tuesday, November 25, for a lunch meeting at Café Nola, I observed a picture of a naked woman hanging on the wall in plain view directly in front of anyone entering, including children. Unlike other venues that may contain such pictures, no admission fee is required to enter this public lobby and view the picture. While we may all differ on the definition of art, a more important question is: should any person, especially a child, who enters the unrestricted lobby of a taxpayer-owned building have his or her rights violated by being forcibly exposed to this type of picture if they do not wish to see it? As a parent of young children, I support parental choice and the freedom of children not to see something like that before an appropriate time as determined by their parent/guardian. The Mayor’s position is still unknown and both the museum director’s and Cultural Council’s responses suggest an unwillingness to compromise, which is unfortunate in this situation because I believe a solution that protects the rights of children and all others alike is within reach. Since this issue surfaced, it is also interesting that all public-facing media outlets, including Facebook, have either blurred or removed the image due to content.
The view of the photograph as seen from Café Nola can be viewed in the photographs included in the slideshow with this article. The photograph that offended Yarborough is in the bottom-right, mostly covered by the staircase.
Hand told First Coast News that "Given the possible First Amendment implications of Council President Yarborough's demand to pull Cultural Council funding from MOCA, we have forwarded his request to the City's Office of General Counsel for legal review."
In the meanwhile, supporters of MOCA and critics of Yarborough are planning on protesting during the week's Art Walk. According to the event's Facebook page, over 700 have confirmed that they are going to come downtown to "protest the pornography comments that City Council President Clay Yarborough said about the beautiful pregnant woman photo art at MOCA."
You can follow Ray Hollister on Twitter @RayHollister.