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Following a 2-week battle, Aurora library gives artist go ahead to exhibit ‘controversial’ work without censorship

Yafang Shi insists it’s not about one particular exhibition but also about right to freedom of expression
Scarlett Liu
March 27, 2023

Aurora photographer, poet and journalist Yafang Shi has won her fight to have a controversial photography and poetry exhibition displayed uncensored at the Aurora Public Library.

The exhibit about social movements for women’s rights was scheduled to be displayed on the library’s gallery wall from March 6 to April 15 to help commemorate International Women’s Day.

On the day of the installation, March 6, and the following day, the library censored Shi’s works for anti-Doug Ford signs and comments about Donald Trump.

But after two weeks of fighting, the library board called a special meeting to review its public art policy and decided to proceed as is on March 20.

Shi has produced 10 24-inch by 36-inch posters: eight photo collages with different themes of social movements for women’s rights, her artist statement, and a poem.

Two photos with “Stop Ford” signs in a collage from a women’s march on March 4 were deemed inappropriate by the library.

Aurora Public Library did not respond to’s inquiries about reasons for the initial rejection, but a previous report indicates the library considers itself a publicly-funded institution that does not participate in partisan politics -- which is why the reference to specific politicians were discouraged.

However, Shi said a photo with the slogan “Ford erodes freedoms” in a collage of workers’ rights was viewed and approved by the library last November.

Shi insisted an uncensored exhibition be displayed, saying the library should fulfil its obligation and commitment endorsed by the mission statement: “It is the responsibility of libraries to guarantee the right of free expression by making all the library's public facilities and services to all individuals and groups who need them.”

“This exhibition has nothing to do with partisan politics,” Shi said in an email to the library. “It is about women’s basic human rights.”

Shi said she was confused the library would allow her to display photo collages of protests for women’s rights in Iranian and Chinese communities, but not those criticizing an elected politician in Canada.

Shi wants to ensure the library remains a facility and community service for all. She said it is not only about this particular exhibition, but also the library’s policies and guaranteed right to freedom of expression.

Shi is pleased the board reversed its decision and allowed the exhibit to proceed uncensored.

“The Aurora Public Library has made great efforts to make the library space diverse and inclusive through its programs,” she said. “I believe that our library will be further strengthened after its public art policy is reviewed and amended according to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Charter-proof policies and the implementation of those policies will be good for the library, for artists, for our community and for society.”

Shortly after Shi got the approval, Aurora Mayor Tom Mrakas issued a statement on Twitter, commending the library for listening to residents’ concerns and reversing its decision.

“The town strongly supports the arts and the artistic expression that comes with it,” Mrakas said. “I believe it is imperative that all public institutions continually review their policies and guidelines to ensure they are as progressive and inclusive as possible.”