Source: The Tillsonburg News
By Michael Peeling
An artist is outraged over the censorship of his work at the local library. ”What’s going in Tillsonburg is kind of upsetting,” said R. Bruce Flowers, a London-based artist whose sculptures of human intimacy are featured in the foyer of the Tillsonburg Public Library. “It has really affected the queer community in Tillsonburg.” Flowers, a retired teacher and full-time sculptor born in Woodstock, said he has received numerous calls from people upset that his sculptures displayed in the library have been covered over with a cloth. ”This censorship is deeply distressing because of the negative message it sends out to the homosexual community,” Flowers said. “With this kind of hostility in their own community, what chance do young people have of making their transition into a homosexual lifestyle valid?” Flowers and one of the exhibit curators, Pat Gibson of Woodstock, pointed out independently that the curators – the team is rounded out by Patricia Deadman – went through the artist’s body of work to deliberately choose “family friendly” pieces. Gibson said arguably the work in the exhibit that draws the most attention is “obviously just two men embracing.” In a letter to the editor of the The Tillsonburg News, Flowers said it’s sad that the sculpture of two men playing piggyback called “Joy” has been “eroticized” by people who have visited the library. ”This merely because the sculptor is a gay man who sculpts positive images of his community,” he wrote.
Flowers said he would rather see the exhibit stay up with the cloth covering it, if that’s what the library board of directors should choose.
“We’re not moving this exhibit,” Flowers said. “There’s nothing offensive or pornographic about it. I think it would be a far more powerful statement to leave the cloth there if that’s what they think.”
Flowers said he hoped the controversy would “all blow over,” but he is thankful the situation has started a dialogue about how homosexuality is portrayed in art.
As of Tuesday, there was a sign on the cloth stating “Feel free to view the display of sculpture (by artist R. Bruce Flowers) behind the curtain.”
That afternoon the library board of directors met in the next room to hear a presentation about the exhibit from Gibson and Deadman. Flowers could not make it to Tillsonburg due to severe weather.
“When we curated these works we thought we wouldn’t offend anyone,” Gibson said. “People who walked by seemed so happy with the sculptures.”
Board chair Linda White said they were not calling the cloth “censorship” because it’s a temporary measure until they decide what to do in the long run.
If the cloth stays up, Gibson and Deadman said they would need a letter of explanation from the library to submit to the Ontario Arts Council, which provided a grant for The Oxford County Art Project: Art in Public Spaces, the vehicle for Flowers’ exhibit and several others.
“We would like to see the sheet removed,” Deadman told the board members, “so the public can see it … In a democratic society, we have the right to see what we want to see.”
Deadman said they don’t have the budget to move the exhibit, but they would like to find a way to have Flowers speak to those who would like to better understand his work and compile a reading list that would aid them as well.
Dennis Cutts, a Tillsonburg resident and actor, went before the board to tell them he is “personally confused why the library is entertaining a complaint like this.”
In a country where same-sex unions are legal, Cutts said he doesn’t see anything controversial about the sculptures at the library.
“Personally I feel this decision by the library tells me I shouldn’t feel as though I’m part of this community as a gay person,” Cutts said. “I feel this is bullying. It makes me feel afraid and uncomfortable.”
The board didn’t make a decision about the future of the exhibit during the meeting, but instead excused the members of the public at the meeting while they dealt with other matters in camera.
Suzanne Renken took a peak at the sculptures and said she didn’t see what all the fuss is about.
“I guess some people don’t believe in freedom of expression,” she said. Gibson is under the impression that the exhibit has been covered by library officials because of complaints from patrons of the library, some of whom based their complaint on a Dec. 1 article about the exhibit in this newspaper. In a letter published on Dec. 9, Tillsonburg resident Greg Friesen said he found it “appalling that the person(s) responsible for hosting this exhibit would be so insensitive as to put something as controversial as homosexuality in a public library.” ”Since when did a public library become a place to showcase any sort of sexuality?” he wrote. “When I go to the library with my children, I don’t want to be seeing, let alone explaining homosexual intimacy to my children. If this was behind closed doors or in a spot which one had to deliberately go to view it (i.e. art gallery), I wouldn’t be so irate.” ”This is a public place, paid for with my tax dollars and for that reason I call for the removal of this display. My family (along with many others that I know of) will not be entering the library until such a time as this display is removed.” Father Matthew George of St. Mary’s Parish wrote in to say he was alarmed by letters such as Friesen’s and the “censorship” of the exhibit.
“How sad that people have decided that this art is something that needs to be censored,” he wrote. “I’m guessing that the piece that elicits this strange response is the one called Joy. How doubly sad that something which to me seems to capture a moment of simple joy and shared humanity has been condemned as somehow advancing the homosexual agenda and not worthy of display in our library.”
An informal survey by library staff of patrons who voiced their opinion of Flowers’ exhibit showed 24 people approved of the display, while only one did not.