Iranian Feminist Artist Censored by American University, Sparking Backlash

An article from the British online magazine Spiked revealed that a private liberal arts college in Minnesota temporarily closed and censored an art exhibition of a feminist artist after claiming some Muslim students were offended by it.

The exhibition opened at Macalester College in St.Paul last January 27. It featured the works of Taravat Talepasand, a 44-year-old Iranian-American female artist originally hailing from Oregon. Her works often challenged political and religious orthodoxy, criticizing Islamic conservatism and the oppression of women under Islamist regimes.

Some artworks the college claimed to have shocked and offended students' sensibilities include a risqué drawing of a woman in hijab lifting her clothes and showing her underwear and another lifting her niqab to reveal her underwear while raising the middle finger.

The exhibit also featured porcelain sculptures of women in niqabs revealing their breasts. Lastly, Talepasand also featured a neon sign saying “Woman, Life, Freedom” in English and Persian. This slogan has become a symbol of protest against the Islamic Republic after protests broke out last year.

Not pleased with her artworks, some Macalester’s student body members submitted a petition demanding to shut down the exhibition, claiming that Talepasand’s works caused "deep pain" and even “perpetuated harm” against Muslims.

According to the student who started the petition, Ikran Noor, “a lot of it is really proactive and really supportive of the Iranian women’s movement that’s happening,” she insisted that the artwork depicting women wearing niqabs and hijabs should be taken down.

Macalester granted the petition and temporarily covered Talepasand’s artworks in black curtains. The censorship drew criticism, particularly from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), which drew attention to the college’s actions.

Administrators at Macalester eventually re-opened the exhibit, albeit with less censorship. The entrance doors were taped up so that people could not see the artwork. Visitors were also shown a content warning of “upsetting or unacceptable images.” A student petition was attached to the doors of the exhibit.

Talepasand criticized the college’s initial decision to cover her artwork with black curtains and the student-made petition posted on the exhibit’s entrance, calling the former “censorship.

The incident comes when many universities and schools are embroiled in controversies related to Islam and art. One particular incident was when a Hamline University art professor was sacked for showing a painting depicting the Prophet Muhammad during class.

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