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Museums Look to Only Fans as Instagram, Others Routinely Remove Artwork With Nudity

Social media are the new fig leaves of art history.

Image of Amedeo Modigliani, Female Semi-Nude (1918), but her breast is censored by Instagram and Only Fans images. (Image: Instagram, Only Fans, and Albertina, Wien.)

As social media continues to censor nudity, pornographic images, and female-presenting nipples, some museums are looking for alternative routes to promote their exhibitions.

The Vienna Tourist Board released this video, hoping to entice people to look further into their Only Fans. Which, if you check out their Only Fans, reads more like an Instagram post. The main difference is it’s behind a subscription ($4.99) paywall. Each post and nude image provides some background info on the art and invites viewers to come to see the work on-site at the museums. Currently, the Only Fans account is promoting three art history museums and one natural history museum.

Because the account is run by a tourist board, this could be shared by many businesses, non-profits and institutions within Austria’s capital city. While supplies last, if you are a subscriber, and provide proof via email to the board’s email, they “will give you a free Vienna City Card or an admission ticket to one of the museums featured on our channel.” The Vienna Tourist Board acknowledges this unorthodox method of marketing also raises awareness of this issue for other institutions and artists.

Marketing in museum work is a really big deal. Museums and similar cultural institutions take a lot of money to run. Even if yours is free (no admission costs), benefactors, national endowments, and other sources of funding are going to want traffic and attendance reports to see if their sustaining donations are worth continuing. Then for traveling exhibitions with insurance, increased staffing, and other elements, things can become even more costly. If no one knows about the exhibition then the negative effects are rippling.

The Leopold Museum (Germany), The Museum of Art and History (Switzerland), and many others are facing similar issues. While I would be surprised to see any medium-to-large museum in the “think of the children,” puritanical U S of A take the Only Fans route, I think this is a great, albeit temporary, solution to a major problem. I say temporary because there are still influential groups that oppose fun and, well, the human body, and because as we saw recently, the people who run Only Fans are quick to throw their creators under the bus.

Contemporary artists’ troubles with nudity

All of the examples so far are “the greats” from the primitivism movement (I certainly didn’t name it), the Renaissance era, and before. Paintings, carved votives, and even sculptures from the past are now apparently risky business. However, contemporary artists experience similar frustrations with social media’s growing censorship.

The Vienna Tourist Board spokesperson, Jelena Hartlauer, told The Guardian, “Compared to the artists who fall under this censorship, the tourist board in Vienna and even the art collections have it easier.”

Facebook/Instagram says they allow for non-pornographic nudity for art. Even if one agreed with this rule, like the general nudity rules, Instagram and others don’t apply this equally. Darker, fat femme bodies (drawn or photos) are policed more in every sense and this completely applies to online visual media. This isn’t just a bias held by the very few human reviewers (a lot of removals/flagging are also done via bots, which is a bad system—ask anyone on Tumblr what happened after they banned “NSFW” content there).

Seeing these bodies, women with hair anywhere but their head, etc. can make people uncomfortable, considering the current era of beauty standards of the last few decades. For those outside of the binary, and trans folks, these issues get worse.

A three-month campaign led by model Nyome Nicholas-Williams got Instagram to add a teensy bit of nuance to the idea of how a breast is held. Cupping is okay, but bent fingers squeezing is not okay? If you are a celebrity, movie poster, etc. though, don’t worry, you likely get a pass. Then there are the trolls that get upset over their pop culture or political views and report anything suggestive. These are the same people that when they are losing an argument will turn to insults about looks or promiscuity.

London-based artist Paloma Smith (a.k.a. Octoplum) worked on this INCREDIBLE sculpture of a vampire Black woman inspired by Albert Joesph Penot’s “La Femme Chaeve-Souris” (The Bat Woman) for almost a year, and every time she posted updates she ran the risk of her account being taken down. Recently she had items removed from her Etsy store citing similar complaints. Back in February, she was reported for showing artwork depicting a stomach …

Someone reported an close up sculpture of a stomach. Art/account Octoplum.(screenshot)

As an artist on Instagram, this is both creatively stifling and keeps me off the platform. It is stifling because though I don’t really draw full nudity ever, I use Instagram and Pinterest for image references of different nude body types. Then I often give up and go to Google. There, I get either porn or “suggestive” poses rather than people moving dynamically or just doing mundane things (both of which are great for drawing!)

There are great workaround and alternatives like Adorka Stock for image references (here’s a recently compiled list). However, these body suits can also hide the subtle contours of the body. Missing is hair, stretch marks, folds, etc.—things we want to draw.

It is not like an “oh well this sucks” and life moves on. If they violate these unevenly enforced rules too many times, artists, creators, and artistic institutions can be banned from the site. I’ve come across so many artists with “backup accounts” for this very reason. Even if they aren’t fully banned, artists can be shadowbanned. This is when a platform purposefully doesn’t allow your work to move within the algorithm and even can block your followers from seeing your content.

If you are not online as an artist in the 21st century—no matter the medium or if you are a hobbyist or have your work shown in prestigious places—the lack of a platform can feel like you don’t exist and that is the truth of it. Based on the countless issues social media platforms and society at large have had with the concept of nuance though, we should not be surprised.

(via Hyperallergic, image: Instagram, Only Fans, and Albertina, Wien.)

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(she/her) Award-winning artist and blogger with experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time watching movies, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Balder's Gate 3, Apex Legends, and CS:GO.