Naked sculptures in Paris celebrating European Heritage are censored to avoid offending people.
We like to think that we are beyond being shocked by the actions of the neo-puritans, but every so often, something comes along that still makes us say “what the FUCK?”. The news that Unesco has put underwear on nude statues displayed in Paris is one of those moments.
Paris. Jesus Christ, Paris. The heart of European culture has now decreed that genitals on a damned statue are beyond the pale. The sculptures, by Stephane Simon, were on display at the European Heritage Day event in September, which seems to be rubbing salt into the wound. After all, naked statues have been on open display in Europe for centuries without anyone apart from the Vatican feeling the need to cover up the naughty bits. Yet a Unesco employee decided that two nude statues needed to be made more modest with the ludicrous addition of a thong and a nappy.
Unesco’s excuse – after initially trying to claim that Simon was happy with the addition, a claim he quickly denied – is that the modesty additions were the work of an over-zealous and ‘stressed’ employee, though the cover up clearly wasn’t slapped up by their version of Cecilia Giménez, the woman who famously destroyed Elias Garcia Martinez’s Ecce Homo. It took time, money and craftsmen to do this cover up. Someone signed off on this, and that someone wasn’t a low level employee.
Simon’s sculptures were designed to evoke naked classics like Michelangelo’s David while also referencing selfie culture – something I’d say they do very well. But as some have commented, they now resemble underwear ads.
Do we accept this as a mistake, or simply the result of religious-driven or religiously sensitive prudishness – the fear that a nude statue would be so upsetting to some people that it needed to be covered? While Unesco have apologised, it seems like it is the thin end of the wedge. How long before someone decides that the ancient nudes that can be found in major museums across the world also need to be covered to spare the blushes of those who equate the naked body with sinfulness?
Images © Stephane Simon