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When the editors of EyeWash put together this month’s issue, they carefully chose its theme, censorship of the arts. After all, the October issue was to be the arts monthly’s final publication, at least until founders Sheila Rotner, Elizabeth Whiteley, and Zinnia could find someone else to assume the financial and organizational responsibilities of assembling the paper. As it turned out, the theme was a prescient one: When EyeWash was sent to its printer, Chesapeake Publishing Corp., the company refused to print a photograph accompanying a review of Eric Malmström’s exhibit at the Touchstone Gallery.
EyeWash representatives negotiated with Chesapeake, and the two parties agreed that the photograph, The Room, which depicts two male nudes, would be printed, but with a black band across it; the word “censored” appears across the band.
EyeWash editor Rima Schulkind says she is “outraged,” particularly at “the compromising position we were placed in when faced with the possibility that readers would think we censored the photograph.” She points out that other photographs in Malmström’s exhibit are far more provocative than The Room, which is “probably one of the least erotic pictures in the show. The genitalia are quite indistinct.”
EyeWash‘s Zinnia points out that although Chesapeake refused to publish The Room, the company did print in the same issue a reproduction of Eric Finzi’s painting, Lovers, which “clearly shows the male penis and scrotum.”
Sarah Thomas, who manages Chesapeake’s division of composition and graphics, explains that Chesapeake chose not to print The Room because the company has “very strong ties to its community.”
“We are very sensitive to anything the community might find offensive,” she says.
“We asked the publisher of EyeWash to find another printer, and they were unable to find another printer,” adds Thomas. “We don’t want to tell them what to print and what not to print.”
In The Room, two nude males appear on a bed; one lies face down, and the other sits on the edge of the bed. In this Age of Madonnacence, this hardly qualifies as “offensive.” In fact, The Room appears devoid of erotic sensationalism. Malmström’s photographs seem to have a distinctly separate purpose, one reinforced by EyeWash contributor Melissa Widerkehr’s thoughtful critique of his work; she deftly observes the contrast between art history’s rich tradition of the female nude and the limited depictions of male nudes.
Of course Malmström was surprised that Chesapeake refused to print The Room. “I chose the image,” he explains, “because it is representative of one of three major themes in the exhibition, dual figures.”
Initially, EyeWash staffers thought about suing Chesapeake, and Schulkind says she did speak with her daughter, an attorney. But the grounds for a suit seem minimal, and the cost of any legal action would have been far higher than the monthly’s chances of winning.
“EyeWash is a nonprofit publication,” says Malmström, “and its ability to publish has been seriously impaired because of the depression in the art world. To take a printer to task on this would be too expensive.”
Instead, with the big black “censored” band, EyeWash has succeeded in making a statement—and a bigger one than might have been necessary. According to Chesapeake’s Thomas, “EyeWash asked us to make the censorship band as big as possible.”