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Sexually explicit art at provincial government building causes stir

Progressive Conservative MPP Laurie Scott was “disappointed” to see a public art gallery near Queen’s Park is displaying a work with explicit images of women engaged in sex acts.
July 16, 2015
By Richard J. Brennan

One person’s art is another’s porn.

Sexually explicit artwork once quietly hanging in a provincial government building has suddenly caused quite a midsummer flap.

A new sign near the entrance of little known John B. Aird Gallery inside the Macdonald block - a provincial government office complex - steps away from the Ontario legislature warns visitors “exhibit contains images intended for a mature audience.”

French-Canadian artist Rosalie H. Maheux collage of explicit sex acts - which from a distance seem innocent enough - has at least one MPP calling for its immediate removal.

Maheux, a 26-year-old University of Toronto art graduate said it was not her intention to offend anyone with her piece titled, “Sacred Circle VI,” noting she made it perfectly clear her art contained pornographic images.

She told the Star the psychedelic piece hanging in the gallery for more than three weeks now is one of a series similar works that she has shown many times before without this kind of backlash.

“My plan was not to shock. I was very clear with the gallery when I send in my submission ... that I used pornographic images ... everything was clear. I think that they maybe they didn’t really go through my submission very well.”

Progressive Conservative MPP Laurie Scott said a gallery - albeit one independently operated - in a public building is no place to hang artwork that includes graphic photographs of women having sex.

The Liberal government says the independent board of directors was responsible for running the gallery.

A gallery board statement said Maheux’s exhibit was chosen by ‚ÄéCanadian art critic Gary Michael Dault for its inventive, thoughtful and searching nature.

“It is not the practice of the John B. Aird Gallery to censor works and we support Canadian artist’s rights to freedom of artistic expression - where artists can display their work with freedom for the public to see and respond to,” said the statement.

“We strive to show quality artworks that promote challenging dialogue. Rosalie Maheux’s Sacred Circle is an example of just that.”

“The gallery regrets not posting a notice earlier about the mature nature.”

Scott, her party’s women’s issues critic, said in a statement she doesn’t care what the artist had in mind, but rather the government should be leading by example in combating the sexual objectification of women.

“The fact that a publicly housed gallery has been allowed to not only display but to sell images of this nature is very worrisome,” Scott said.

Maheux countered that if someone looks at the entire piece it is not pornographic at all.

“I would really say it is more deep than that. People have said it is such a beautiful circle full of detail and colour. It’s very spiritual ... it’s just not porn at all,” she said, adding she has “a strong feminist interest” in mind when creating her art.

The exhibit will remain in place until July 24.