In 1990, Cincinnati’s Contemporary Art Center hosted an exhibit of photos by Robert Mapplethorpe that sparked outrage. The CAC’s director Dennis Barrie was charged with violating obscenity laws but was eventually acquitted. Now Cincinnati’s Contemporary Art Center is hosting “Reflections on Robert Mapplethorpe” which brings together artifacts based on events from twenty-five years earlier concerning religious bigotry, secularism, freedom of expression, and the rights of LGBTQ people.
The exhibit includes some of the controversial photos as well as artwork done in reaction to Mapplethorpe’s work. There are also photos of protests, newspaper clippings, editorial cartoons, and letters both for and against. In one photo a protestor holds an ironic sign saying, “If we give artists freedom of expression, then everyone will want it.” Letters against the exhibit included Christian tracts, warnings that earthquakes were on the way, and accusations that disgusting people doomed to Hell were destroying America. One hostile letter was signed, “Love in Christ, Ethel.”
Humanists place high value on freedom of expression and other human rights. Because of the attempts at censoring the 1990 exhibit, Larry Reyka a founding member of the Humanist Community, used the nickname “Censor-nati” to refer to Cincinnati. In sharp contrast to censors who put others down without good reason, Humanists have also long stood in solidarity with LGBTQ people. The foundation for human rights is recognition of the inherent dignity of all people.
If you have a chance to see the CAC’s exhibit, you have the chance to celebrate a moment in history when Humanist principles took priority in Ohio.
Featured Image via the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation website