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Discussion over censorship after library removes artist's photos

Last Updated Mar 29, 2018 at 6:16 am EDT

WARNING: The following story contains content some may find offensive.

A Markham library hosted a public discussion Wednesday evening on censorship and a word that most recently got an artist’s photos removed from an exhibit.

Yafang Shi spearheaded the conversation as she stood surrounded by the dozens of photographs in the gender equality exhibit she took at the several Women’s Marches in Toronto. Two of the photographs were removed, after the library said it received complaints from members of the public. The images have one thing in common, they both display the word “pussy” on posters, held by women attending the marches.

The photos have since been put back on display after the library apologized and said it made a mistake, but it’s launched a bigger conversation on censorship in public spaces.

“It’s important to have this conversation to explain the context of the word, and why the word appeared in those photos,” Shi said.

Not everyone agrees on the meaning of the word. Some say its offensive while others say it’s empowering. Feminists have also reclaimed it and used it in marches around the world, including in Toronto.

But Shi says she just wanted to have the conversation with members of the public who were critical of the images, saying this was an educational opportunity.

“The word was used by President Trump before he was elected, used in a way that was very offensive,” Shi said.

“The people who were protesting, they reclaimed the word, so they sued it in a different ways. It’s important to understand the social context of how this word was used.”

A handful of people showed up for the discussion, but it did not appear that anyone who had concerns over the images was in attendance.

“We’re living at a time where we’re all uncomfortable, so why was it taken down was my question,” one attendee stated. “Secondly, what are the implications?”

The two photos in question were displayed once again, after the library says staff did not follow proper protocol by removing them.

The library says it generally follows guidelines set by the Canadian Library Association. In Shi’s case, it says staff should have taken a written report of the complaint and submitted it to management, who would then review it. It’s a process the board says is efficient to balance community concerns.

“We strive to put things out there that might cause people to have a conversation,” Ben Hendriks, chair of the Markham Public Library Board, explained.

“We do our best to make sure we’re putting out there, everything the community is about.”

At a library board meeting next month, Shi says she’s hoping to hold a discussion on the policies and procedures that led to her photos being removed in the first place.

The exhibit features a total of 51 photographs displayed throughout the second floor of the library, and will last until the end of the month.