Denmark: Ban reversed on nude photo exhibit

29 January 2016


If you can exploit women’s bodies in advertising in the public space, then why can’t an artist exhibit nude photos in the same space? This is the question photographer Mathilde Grafström asked when her exhibition was banned in December 2015 in Copenhagen; but police have now reconsidered the case, reported Danish newspaper Politiken on 20 January 2016.

In December 2015, Grafström attempted to put on an exhibition entitled ‘Female Beauty with an Edge’, consisting of her nude female photography, in an urban square in Copenhagen. Grafström’s application to the municipality to put on the show was forwarded to the police who intervened and denied her permission on the grounds that the exhibit was “indecent”.

Grafström then filed a complaint to Copenhagen police raising the argument that nudity in advertising is met “without resistance” in Denmark, but her photography was not allowed to be shown in a public space. The photographer specifically cited a 2015 ad campaign by a Danish private hospital that showed bare, “perfectly shaped” female breasts across public buses to promote their plastic surgery clinic.

“When naked people can be shown in public in advertising, then they must also be in art,” Grafström said.

Photo displayed on Mathilde's home page
Photo displayed on Mathilde Grafström’s home page

Increasingly blurred line
Controversies over the access to and use of public space for artists, commercial interests or the public is common all over the world.

In 2014 the United Nations Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Farida Shaheed, addressed the issue in a report:

“In examining new trends in advertising and marketing strategies, the Special Rapporteur is concerned by the increasingly blurred line between commercial advertising and other content, especially in the areas of culture and education. An overall concern relates to the disproportionate presence of commercial advertising and marketing in public spaces, the myriad advertisements and marketing messages people receive daily, the dissemination of such communications using a large variety of media in a systematic and integrated way and the resort to techniques aimed at circumventing individual rational decision-making. The report concludes that States should protect people from undue levels of commercial advertising and marketing while increasing the space for not-for-profit expressions.”

Grafström claims that her work with female nudes is intended to combat negative self-image and finding inner beauty in a time of unachievable body ideals. She attributes the reversal to the attention her story received in Denmark and across the world, calling the outcome “absolutely fantastic”.

The photographer will now re-apply to the Copenhagen municipality to set her exhibition in a public space as she hoped to do in 2015.

The photo on top of this page is from Mathilde Grafström’s Twitter account


» Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – 8 August 2014:
Report of the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights

Related information

» – 11 February 2013:
Denmark: Apple’s puritanical censorship creates a movement

» – 27 November 2012:
Denmark: Row over ban of theatre group’s burning flag


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