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Censorship a Theme at Erotic Arts Fair

At the event this weekend, LGBT community members discuss public homoerotic imagery and where the city of West Hollywood fits in.

Censorship was the talk of the 16th annual Tom of Finland , which opened its two-day exhibition at West Hollywood Park Auditorium on Saturday. Dozens of exhibitors displayed their erotically themed artwork, while hundreds of people came through to see and purchase it.

Dedicated to preserving and exhibiting erotic art, Los-Angeles-based Tom of Finland puts on the fair each year.

Despite years of city sponsorship, the Arts and Cultural Affairs Commission (ACAC) voted in January not to sponsor the art fair. One reason given was that the event would be taking place in the park “where there are children.”

Dan Berkowitz, co-chair of the city’s Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board and a former president of the Tom of Finland Foundation, was present at the ACAC meeting.

“The most alarming thing is none of the people on that commission are our enemies. They are one of us,” Berkowitz said. "When the LGBT community is attempting to censor its own ... things are really in trouble."

The vote provoked outrage across the gay community with cries that the gay community had gotten too far from its roots where homoerotic imagery was encouraged. 

The City Council quickly moved to approve sponsorship of the arts fair. The event went on as scheduled, but not everyone was supportive.

Bo Tobin of the Tom of Finland Foundation reported that the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center declined to put up posters promoting the Erotic Arts Fair. Tobin said center workers were concerned about the poster containing the image of Michelangelo’s "David" and the use of the word “erotic.”

With censorship on everyone’s minds, the fair held a symposium Saturday afternoon titled: “Is Self-Censorship Really Self-Loathing in Gay Culture?”

Artist Michael Kirwan called the censorship controversy just part of a larger problem in the LGBT community.

“How can we be gay men without expressing our sexuality?” asked Kirwan. “Arts have always been a way for people with minds of courage to express themselves . . . allowing the most needy among us to commandeer our community.”

Berkowitz believes the problem is more insidious than censorship.

“We are all becoming victims of our success in mainstreaming gay culture,” he said. “Bare chaps may be OK in Silver Lake, but they’re not OK in La Jolla.”

Longtime activist Ivy Bottini, also a member of the city’s Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board, believes the gay community has allowed larger organizations to take over what smaller, grass-roots groups once did.

“We have become a community of check writers,” she said. “We used to do protests in the streets. Unless we get off our butts, bare or not, we are digging our own graves.”

Bottini believes that in the push for same-sex marriage, the LGBT community has been cleaned up for better presentation to the rest of society. And by cleaning up, many on the edge are being left out.

Michael Thorn, editor-in-chief of Instigator magazine, agreed, saying that corporate sponsorship of gay pride has diluted pride because the companies want to clean things up and get rid of the rough edges.

“Everybody’s got a right to be normal, but there is something even better about not being normal,” said Tobin.

Later in the afternoon, Mayor John Heilman and Councilwoman Abbe Land came to officially open the arts fair. Fair organizers thanked Heilman and Land for the city gifting them the use of the auditorium. Heilman replied that it was not a gift from the city, but rather “it’s a gift to us to have you here.”

Heilman said he hoped the Erotic Arts Fair would continue to be in West Hollywood for years to come and added that he would do anything possible to make sure it stays in the city.

Land commented on how thrilled she has been over the years to see the fair grow, first in and now in . Noticing how the entire auditorium was filled with artists and exhibitors, Land added, “We need to find a bigger venue for you.”

A different Paul March 28, 2011 at 03:33 PM
It seems to me it is as much a reflection on American society as a whole. We are very uncomfortable with nudity- and male nudity in particular in a public forum, though like the Victorians we are secretly obsessed with it outside of the public forum. On one hand we have folks trying to say "Let the gay community grow up- homosexuality is about more than the erotic. If we want to be accepted by the community at large we can't act like a bunch of snickering Junior Highers looking at dirty magazines and sneaking around back alleys." But on the flip side, sex and the erotic is a powerful force in everyone- gay and straight and we would be healthier as a nation if we were able to acknowledge it for both its beauty and its powerful effect on our everyday behaviors. I think it is a good thing that the city is supporting the event. I also think the controversy is larger than a gay issue and rather a national issue with sexuality in general. Times are a changing and it makes sense that society is wrestling with how that happens and how to have public expression of the erotic in a responsible way.
Paul March 29, 2011 at 06:56 AM
The city didn't sponsor the event I thought? I think with the evolution of West Hollywood and more and more straight people moving in and raising there children thus using the park it is not appropriate to have pornography being displayed. With the new library about to open it's doors it is bound t o be an even more attractive place to raise children. These new residents new residents tend to be more conservative with little in common from the do anything for a good time gay man or lesbian who have lived in happily in West Hollywood since the 70's long before West West Hollywood became a city.
larry gust March 31, 2011 at 07:48 PM
It is not pornography... if you bothered to see the work, but rather erotic works. In case you don't know the Erotic Art Festival, mostly straight is a huge event and thousands submit their work, and attend, you can find it online. New people moving to West Hollywood are not more conservative.
A different Paul March 31, 2011 at 09:50 PM
Defining pornography is a challenge. To some it is a glimpse of an ankle and women with exposed hair, and others put it somewhere between soft core and hard core. Artistic merit is one way to delineate porn from erotic art... but that is a fuzzy perception too. Comes down to the community where it resides. I'm pretty open minded, but there are times when I cringe a little when I see something blatantly sexual where children can see it. Generally, I think when it is viewable by the general public one should err on the side of discretion, but when the collection is contained out of view of the casually wandering public like this one it shouldn't be a big deal. No one is going to see it unless they choose to.
Paul April 05, 2011 at 08:23 AM
I have been to that far and it is most definitely XXX-rated. Being held at a city park where children play is absurd and should be located in a location where children are not allowed.
A different Paul April 05, 2011 at 03:03 PM
Can children actually see the images without entering the show? I thought there was an admission. It would be highly inappropriate if children can just walk in and see the show.

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