The political posters that senior Ruth Holmes placed around campus for her Printmaking and Social Change class did not quite get the reaction she hoped for. Instead of creating a dialogue, the posters she hung up were almost immediately torn down.
The posters depicted a pair of breasts with a bloody knife cutting under them. Holmes created the posters to show the difficulties of living with gender dysphoria, or what she described as not feeling comfortable in one’s biological body. Gender dysphoria is a major theme in Holmes’ work.
“I’ve felt it to some extent, like I’m not sure if I feel one-hundred percent female,” Holmes said. “My partner, though, is transgender and so they deal with it all the time. A lot of what they’re feeling I see and I kind of absorb it and a lot of it gets reproduced in my work when I see them in so much pain.”
Holmes anticipated that the graphic images might offend some people who passed them. The posters were labeled WAC 101, referring to the classroom in the Whitcomb Art Center, so that whoever had objections knew whom to contact.
Within 24 hours of hanging seven posters up around campus, three of them were removed. The last time Holmes checked, only two remained and nobody had contacted the art faculty.
“The only ones that were left were the one in SMC and then the one in GDH,” Holmes said. “It’s really kind of aggravating that so many of them were taken down so quickly and nobody reached out to anybody in WAC. I have no idea what happened to these prints, so they’re just gone.”
Holmes and her classmates were told by Associate Professor of Art Tony Gant, to create several engaging posters around campus in order to get a reaction. Gant explained that the goal of his course, Printmaking and Social Change, is to take art made in the studio out into the public.
“It’s primarily political,” Gant said. “It’s about what students want to present politically and about what is of value to them in terms of what they want to express. We really try to work on making images clear and putting them out on campus and seeing what kind of dialogue, if any, is created as a result of that.”
Gant emphasized the importance of engaging ideas and said that his class understood the need to support each other’s work without the obligation to agree with each other’s politics.
“I agree that there are some issues that are a little bit disturbing to the public,” Gant said. “We did talk about the fact that there would potentially be some kind of blowback, that it wouldn’t necessarily be taken as a wonderful thing and it may be disposed of.”
Gant also emphasized that the disposal of Holmes’ posters differed from the removal of the posters of her classmates.
“Sometimes things have been up for a while and so maybe they came down because people have seen them for long enough, like for a month or so,” Gant said. “Ruth’s would come down like the next day, so that really kind of implies something quite different.”
It was Gant’s idea to have the students label each poster with WAC 101. This, along with the fact that the posters were each handmade, led Gant and his students to assume that people knew they came from the art department.
“Anybody looking at them could see that they were handmade,” Gant said. “Anybody could tell that there was some real time spent making these. Yet, some people chose to take them down, which is a little disconcerting to me. In some ways, when it comes down so quickly, it does kind of seem like there’s maybe a silencing that’s going on, that there’s a censoring of what we should see.”
According to Coordinator of Student Development Andrew Salemi, Holmes’ poster in Seymour Hall was torn in half. Salemi kept the poster in the Campus Life Office for three weeks in case someone came to collect it, but then got rid of it.
“We don’t ever take anything [in Seymour] down,” Salemi said. “In this case, the poster was definitely allowed to be there. Anyone can hang anything, there is no process to putting anything up. I heard some complaints about the posters, but we have to respect other people’s postings if it’s not specifically targeting another person.”
Salemi mentioned that he looked for contact information, and did not see WAC 101 written on the poster.
“I think most people on this campus would make an effort to reach out if it was clear,” Salemi said. “The fact that five were taken down and the student wasn’t contacted tells me that the information wasn’t clear enough on the poster. If the intention is to be contacted, you should make that information as easily available as possible.”
Holmes plans to hang more posters up in response to what happened, but still wants to know why the posters were taken down.
“If you do want to take something down, just contact the person that it belongs to,” Holmes said. “They’re gone. I don’t know these people and I would like to know what they think. I’m not even that mad, I just want to know why.”