American visual artist based in Spain, Emma Shapiro, has been experiencing ongoing censorship on Instagram over the artwork depicting artistic expression through her body. As a result of censorship and criticism of her work, she started the Exposure Therapy Project to confront how the female nipples are censored online and offline. Instagram has been threatening to delete Shapiro’s accounts on various occasions over the last few years. It eventually happened on 17 August 2021, when the Exposure Therapy Project’s Instagram account, @nipeople, has been deleted.
The artist informed Freemuse that Exposure Therapy’s Instagram page @nipeople was removed after Shapiro shared a women empowerment community Be a Feminist Girl’s post.
Shapiro expresses her art through her own body for over ten years. It caused her to face backlash from Instagram multiple times. For instance, her artwork is constantly being censored.
“I have mostly been battling with Instagram and how I’m not able to really expose my artwork on Instagram. And recently, for example, I had some great opportunities as an artist in residence with a few different places that were also penalised and unable to share my work through their platforms,” Shapiro told Freemuse.
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Shapiro highlights that, in her opinion, the autonomy of the artwork and its creator can also play a role in censorship.
“The female body has been used in our history forever, but the people who were using the female body were usually male artists. And so, women using their own body is what I’m concerned with about censorship online.”
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When asked about people who may object or criticise her artworks, the artist says that there are “people who haven’t had the chance or the confrontation to question their assumptions about how they were told to have an opinion of the female body and how they might regard even their own body. They haven’t been confronted with possibilities that are different. And so, it can be jarring or shocking, or they think that it’s not appropriate.”
Apart from lack of visibility and inducing anxiety for artists and creators online, the censorship and removal of artworks and artistic accounts on social media have far greater consequences. Shapiro mentioned that censorship and removal of social media accounts often mean losing all the artistic work, as there is no backup provided on social media channels.
The artist suggested that social media companies would need to implement a solution to deal with nudity in artwork specifically. She indicates that as for now, there is no way to inform social media channels that the work presented on their platform is artwork.
Because of her experiences, Shapiro advocates for sexual activity and nudity sections to be separate, considering that there is more nuance to it.
For Freemuse’s recommendations on online censorship and online violence against women to social media companies, read Privatising Censorship, Digitising Violence: Shrinking Space of Women’s Rights to Create in the Digital Age report.
In 2020, Freemuse documented 289 acts of censorship in 52 countries and online, with 15% of them being related to indecency. Out of documented acts of censorship in 2020, at least 81 were conducted by social media and film streaming platforms.
“I see that I have a little small impact, and as long as I can get people to question why the nipple is obscene or inappropriate or illegal, depending on where you are, then I’ll feel like I have achieved my goal,” says Emma Shapiro.