by Jessica Carreras
FERNDALE – Visitors to Affirmations over the next few weeks – including during Motor City Pride – will be surprised to see what’s on the walls. On May 28, the center’s Pittmann-Puckett Art Gallery began showing what could be the most controversial exhibit they’ve ever shown.
Despite being pulled from the walls just days before it was set to open, Femmes: Front and Center II is back up at Affirmations until June 12, and photographer Kristin Kurzawa couldn’t be happier.
“I’m proud of having the show here now,” she said at the exhibit’s opening on May 29.
“It’s been a lot of work and collaboration with a lot of different people – people from the National Coalition Against Censorship, with Affirmations, with professors from the University of Michigan, with support from femmes all over the world. It’s been an amazing process, so it’s really good to see the show up finally.”
But it took a lot of work to get there.
On May 9, less than a week before the show was scheduled to premiere, Kurzawa received an e-mail from Social Enrichment Coordinator Maureen Jones that read: “While we fully appreciate the beauty of queer femme performance portrayed in the collection, the images do not meet the agreed upon PG-13 or family friendly nature of our community gallery. We have decided to cancel the opening and the show.”
What happened in the following weeks was a community outcry that Affirmations could never have anticipated. An article in Between The Lines the following week showcased a battle between the center and Kurzawa, who claimed her art was being censored. The community agreed.
After word got out, Affirmations was barraged with an onslaught of e-mails, phone calls and opinions suggesting that the LGBT community as a whole was not happy with their decision to pull the show. While some members said they understood the decision, most said they wanted a community center that was uncensored.
For Kurzawa, the response meant a lot.
“(The community) doesn’t like being told what they can and cannot see,” she concluded. “They really support Affirmations as their community center and they don’t want it to censor them. People are more aware of their first amendment rights, be it in the workplace, be it in the gallery, be it online. They’re aware that people have the right to say, see, show and photograph what they want.”
At the gallery opening, visitors to the center were greeted by close to 20 framed works by Kurzawa, including some that showed rubenesque women in as little as their undergarments, or even a thong.
Jones said that the decision to put the show back up and keep it up during Pride was based upon talks with Kurzawa and the art community, LGBT response and a survey conducted on Affirmations’ Web site asking respondents to say what they felt was appropriate for the center.
The responses on the survey, said Jones, were overwhelmingly in favor of no censorship at all, with full nudity and sexual themes.
Still, Affirmations took precautions with the exhibit, including signs at both entrances notifying people of the nature of the photographs. Admittedly, they were something Kurzawa didn’t approve of, but compromised on. “The signs are something Affirmations feels that they need to do still,” she explained. “They keep talking about parents and children. …Together, though, we co-wrote the statement to include language about mature audiences and that it’s an advisement, not a discretionary statement.”
Despite that, Kurzawa said she’s looking forward to continued feedback from the community, as well as further corrective action from the center’s leaders, who have vowed to create a plan for the gallery so that something like this never happens again. “I saw this as a teaching moment, as well as a learning moment for everyone that censorship wasn’t being done on purpose,” Kurzawa said. “It was something that they had fallen into and they were learning with the gallery, and so I saw this as something we could educate Affirmations about and work together to create a plan for the gallery.”
Likewise, Kurzawa said she has grown from the experience. “It was also a learning experience for me,” she said. “It taught me to really work with my community more closely than just walking away.”
Femmes: Front and Center II
May 28-June 12
290 W. Nine Mile Road, Ferndale