When junior Claire Mazius heard from a classmate on Wednesday, April 3 that two of their photos on display in the Center for the Fine Arts had been stolen, they quickly replaced them with two other prints.
“I kind of took it upon myself to put up new work, because I thought that maybe it was a gag,” Mazius said. “I went back the next day and one of the new ones I had put up was gone. And then two were defaced.”
Both photos that were vandalized were photos of Mazius’ naked body, which they produced for the ART-214 photography class they took during Winter Term. Both photos had what appeared to be red nail polish crossing out Mazius’ eyes, while one also had the word “slut” written in capital letters across the photo.
In this course, taught by Professor Michael Godsil, students were instructed to choose a photographer who inspired them and to attempt to build off of their specific style. Mazius chose Francesca Woodman, a feminist photographer who attempted to showcase the female body during her work in the 1970s.
“One of the objectives was to drain sort of prurient, erotic content out of an image of a nude female figure,” Godsil said. “The thing that Claire was interested in was finding new ways to thwart the male gaze.”
Though they depicted Mazius’ naked body through different movements and blurs, Godsil is confident they should not have been offensive to anyone on campus.
“They certainly were not pornographic so I can’t imagine anybody on this campus would have taken them down for conservative religious values,” Godsil said.
The first two photos that were stolen were of two naked models who agreed to pose for Mazius, but when they replaced them with photos of their own body, they were vandalized. To senior Keara Crook, who also has photos up from her project in the show, this made it clear that it was not about the content, but rather was targeting the artist.
“At first it wasn’t photos of Claire that were taken … but once the photos of Claire were written on, it kind of switched to ‘okay, I think we have an idea that Claire is being targeted here by someone,’” Crook said.
While CFA has no security cameras facing the photos, Mazius began to agree with Crook after her work was targeted repeatedly.
“The pictures that were stolen were not of me, so I think these were targeted specifically because they were just of myself and no other people,” Mazius said.
After seeing this happen to Mazius’ work, Crook seriously considered taking down her work in order to ensure she wouldn’t lose the product of many hours in the darkroom developing her film.
“After that happened it was just kind of like, ‘well dang, I want to take all of these down now because those can’t be replicated,’” Crook said. “There’s one of me naked and it’s really nice … and maybe if I didn’t think it was targeted towards Claire, I’d be more uncomfortable and it’d be taken down.”
To Godsil, though he believes this to be the actions of a single individual, it can still say a lot about the Knox campus.
“As a community we shouldn’t tolerate theft of anything on campus but particularly not theft of work of other students. I mean that’s just the lowest of the low,” Godsil said. “It only takes one immature moron on this campus to do something like this.”
Even without any video evidence possible, Godsil is hoping that the individual behind these incidents will be caught.
“My hope would be that whoever did this went ‘haha look what I have’ to somebody else and somebody else realizes that as a responsible member of our community, even if they have to do it anonymously, they should inform Campus Safety or one of our deans,” Godsil said.
Mazius agreed with Godsil, calling it a breach of trust that has made them reconsider showing their work publicly on campus in the future.
“It was pretty devastating,” Mazius said. “This happened in a shared space where we should have a mutual trust, but this has kind of made me lose faith in our campus community.”
Campus Safety has not responded to requests for comment.
Erika Riley contributed reporting to this story.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story referred to Claire Mazius using she/her pronouns. Claire uses they/them pronouns. We apologize for this mistake.