From an old Yoruba Proverb we have this gem: “Truth came to market but could not be sold; however, we buy lies with ready cash.” And hip-hop pioneer Ice T’s observation on censorship simply states, “Freedom of speech…just watch what you say.” Attributable to the Oxford English Dictionary, censorship is defined as “the practice of officially examining books, movies, etc., and suppressing unacceptable parts.”
I never thought that I would encounter the issue outside of theoretical discussions conducted in Art Appreciation classes. However, the specter has slowly reared its ugly head over the past several years – each time cloaked in the guise of “protection”.
There is a desire among some to protect, sterilize and sanitize the Grambling family. But by any name, it’s censorship. To be clear, we’re talking about the display of visual art on the campus of Grambling State University being constricted and restricted.
More specifically, we’re talking about visual art that may be seen as offensive by some, and may cause physical, psychological, or emotional distress.
As the advisor to some of the individuals experiencing censorship (accused of making inflammatory artwork), I take exception. But, I am not naÃ¯ve. As an exhibiting artist, I’ve displayed and curated exhibitions that antagonized viewers with what some might call visually assaulting imagery. Depending upon the theme and subject matter, I still believe that such works have a place in society (Richard Pryor, anyone?). As an instructor, I’ve taught my students the difference between shock (“yelling fire in a movie theatre”) and effectively making work related to socio-political and personal issues. As a result, what I have seen, progressively, is the intellectual and artistic culture shift to that of more scholarly and conscientious investigations from Visual and Performing Arts majors.
In my opinion, censorship suggests that we quash infringements upon the common moral good. What’s unfortunate is that this mythical commonality hinges on the obfuscation of individual interpretations/depictions of reality. Shielding our eyes from the mundane or harsh realities of the world doesn’t empower us; it weakens us by limiting our knowledge of the true nature of our surroundings. At the very least it encourages stagnation.
As a faculty member at GSU, one of the first charges I received was to facilitate critical learning and discourse. Logic dictates one cannot meet that challenge without entertaining the full expression of free speech/thought and all that it encompasses. To quote the ACLU, “Freedom of expression for ourselves requires freedom of expression for others. It is the very heart of our democracy.”
One would assume that every institution of higher learning, at its core, wants the same – diversity in population and thought. The ability of our students to think critically ensures they will graduate from college as a defining product of this university’s belief in its student populace. To shield students at every turn insinuates on some level that they can go through life without having their ideas/beliefs challenged, but who would want that?
Rodrecas Davis is Assistant Professor of the Art Department of Visual & Performing Arts at
Grambling State University.