Visual Culture

Spencer Tunick will deploy donated male nipples for a project protesting social media censorship.

Kelsey Ables
May 16, 2019 3:58PM, via National Coalition Against Censorship

Courtesy the National Coalition Against Censorship.

During the pre-dawn hours of June 2nd, photographer Spencer Tunick, in collaboration with the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), will stage a photograph aimed at challenging Instagram and Facebook’s bans on artistic nudity in photography. A part of a project called “We The Nipple,” the photo will feature 100 nude models and will be meticulously crafted to follow nudity policies on the platform. Yesterday, the NCAC announced that several prominent male artists and creators—from Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith to artist Andres Serrano—have “donated” their nipples to the cause.

To the dismay of both up-and-coming and established photographers who frequently shoot nudes, Instagram currently bans all artistic nudity in photography (with the exception of nude photos of the backside, taken from a distance) despite allowing nudity in painting and sculpture. Included in Instagram’s classification of “nude” is the much debated female-presenting nipple—a rule the #WeTheNipple movement hopes to change.

Tunick is known for his images of large-scale interventions often featuring hundreds of nude models. He has done over 75 installations in various locales—from train stations, to deserts, to waterfalls. The June 2nd gathering will be smaller in terms of participants, but more deliberately crafted to directly challenge the community guidelines that have impeded even established artists like Tunick on social media. The world-renowned photographer said he spends hours blurring and pixelating nipples from his larger photographs so as to be able to share them online.

In preparation for the installation, which will happen in the early morning hours of June 2nd at an as-of-yet undisclosed New York location, talk show host Andy Cohen, artist Andres Serrano, actor-photographer Adam Goldberg, Chad Smith, and Tunick and fellow photographer Paul Mpagi Sepuya have donated photographs of their nipples to be included in the work. Serrano, whose controversial Piss Christ (1987) was vandalized by Catholic protesters in 2011, and Sepuya, who frequently posts his nude photography on Instagram, are no strangers to censorship.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the NCAC said will use the nipples “to create an artwork [. . .] to highlight the arbitrary gender distinction built into the platforms’ policing of artistic nudity.” The NCAC added: no nipple donors were harmed in the collection of nipples for this project.

Kelsey Ables