Giant blue penis erected as a mural: should art be censored?

The question of whether or not it is ethical to censor art is one that has been asked for centuries and one that will continue to be asked into the unknown future. Changing social expectations mean that what we find offensive is an ever-changing concept. That people push the limits and attempt to transgress these limits of acceptable artistry can be seen as either progressive or aggressive depending upon your opinion on artistic freedom.

The censorship of art has been a controversial topic throughout history, most notably that of The Great Penis Removal. During the Middle Ages of a large portion of Grecian statues were emasculated due to an attempt at censoring their nudity.

The artwork that has caused so much controversy this time is that of a large, blue, erect penis painted onto the side of an apartment building in Stockholm by artist Carolina Falkholt, named “Fuck the World”. Kollektivet Livet, a group of local artists, have been responsible for the murals since 2008. The murals are commissioned by various artists and are shown for around a six-month period before the design is covered and a new one takes its place.

‘Keep your penis inside’, image courtesy of Pinterest

Members of the apartment block, and of those surrounding it, have voiced complaints about the inappropriate nature of the art. Some have even go so far as to place banners over the artwork proclaiming, “Keep Your Penis Inside.” Due to these complaints, the artwork is to be removed in a matter of days, not months.

The question this now presents is should these complaints hold any sway over the creation and longevity of these murals? Is it ethical to censor art for the sake of social norms in relation to what is and is not deemed appropriate? Or is this merely a way of stifling the creative self and the natural progression of human understanding through socially constructed concepts of conservative Puritanism?

Most importantly: does listening to the opinions of the many stifle the progression of the few? The artwork does not aim to discriminate against any one group of people and as such, there is no firm cause for the removal of it.

The supposedly obscene nature of the artwork could in itself be seen as inherently progressive as it forces us to question the ways in which we observe the human body. Should a ‘sexual’ organ be seen as intrinsically sexual? With the advancement of public knowledge in LGBTQIA+ society comes the understanding that sexual desire is not a default function of the human psyche and as such the very organs we deem ‘sexual’ are rendered ultimately asexual.

This also begs the question of why we are so offended by the existence of our own genitals and their potential use as sexual organs? These views are not universal nor are they supported throughout history. It wasn’t until around the 18th century that public nudity began to be considered obscene in western culture.

By agreeing to remove the mural in Stockholm the owners of the apartment building are in fact reinforcing ideas of shame towards the human body in the public consciousness. There are many who have watched this situation unfold and refuse to be forced to follow a popular rhetoric in regards to how we view our bodies and the censorship of artistic expression.

Simply put, we have bigger problems than a giant blue penis.


Philippa Lindsay

Image courtesy of Mashable