WARNING: The following story contains content some may find offensive.
The Markham Public Library has apologized for censoring a photo exhibit over a word some patrons found vulgar and offensive.
Yafang Shi’s exhibit Marching for Gender Equality: Voices, Movement and Empowerment originally featured 51 photos from the Toronto Women’s March in January.
But on March 2, the first day of the show, three photos that displayed placards with the word “pussy” were taken down after patrons of the Markham Village Branch complained the images weren’t child-appropriate.
“I was kind of surprised people reacted so strongly about that particular word,” Shi said. “I thought it would be a good opportunity to have a conversation on that. That’s the whole purpose of the exhibition.”
The library allowed the photos to be displayed during the official launch and panel discussion two days later, but then promptly took them down after the event was over.
The library’s marketing manager Diane Macklin said staff didn’t follow protocol when it took down the photos, and the library will be reviewing the process.
“We recognize that we made an error in removing those photos and we apologize for that,” she said.
“We made a judgment error. We were interested in making sure that our community felt safe within our spaces and that they weren’t offended by what they were seeing in the library. We recognize now that that was probably not the action … we should have taken.”
Judith Taylor, an associate sociology professor at the University of Toronto, said the exhibit is a “huge teaching opportunity” for parents with the courage to address difficult topics. Libraries, museums and pubic government buildings should not censor social movements, she added.
“It’s really important for us to see violent images, to see dangerous images, to see threats, to see things that make us uncomfortable, and to reckon with those,” she said. “And I think children are up for that task.”
Macklin said the library is open to talking with Shi about what she would like to do for the rest of the exhibit, which ends on March 30.
“Art exhibits are valuable opportunities for us to have discussions about the issues of our community,” she said. “I think that the success of this exhibit is that now we are having that conversation — and I think that that’s a good thing.”