Curator Jac Lahav in dialogue with Art Spiel
Now that many cultural institutions are still closed and we get much of our visual information from social media, artist and curator Jac Lahav has launched the provocative group show Instagram’s Shaodw exploring through the stories of 17 artists how their artwork is being censored on social media and how they are fighting back. The show started in June 1st and will be online through August 31st, then it will go live on the website as an archived history. It includes work by Betty Tompkins, Christen Clifford, Chiara No, Clarity Haynes, Joanne Leah, Raw Meat Collective (Kyle Quinn), Karlheinz Weinberger, Kumasi Barnett, Lissa Rivera, Leah Schrager, Michael X Rose, Micol Hebron, Peter Clough, Shona McAndrew, Steve Lock (Bill Arning), Sara Jimenez, and Tiffany Saint Bunny. Jac Lahav discusses here why he sees this group show as particularly timely and shares the background for some of the work.
AS: You are a prolific artist and curator. Tell me a bit about your background
JL: I was born in 1978 in Israel, grew up in Boston, and moved to Brooklyn in early 2000. I’m known for painting iconic americans, exploring issues of celebrity, monuments, and had solo museum shows across the country. But something was missing. Six years ago I decided to add ‘building community’ to my practice. I had so many friends with amazing work that I could help get seen. So in addition to painting I took on the roll of cheerleader. In 2017 we moved to Lyme CT where my wife and I opened the 42 Social Club, a project space located in a romantic, woodsy, post and beam style hay house.
AS: What is the genesis of your recent curatorial project, Instagram’s Shadow?
JL: Instagram is crucial to artists’ visibility. In 2017 we began to hear from artists that social media was treating them unfairly. Upon further research, it became clear how deep IG censorship went and how it affects both artists and marginalized communities.
Now we have Covid. Since cultural institutions are closed, IG has become one of the only ways for the art community to stay informed. IG censorship has taken on a whole new urgency.
AS: Can you elaborate on the premise behind it?
JL: Through spotlighting 17 artists we discover how artists are being censored and are fighting back. Instagram’s Shadow was intended to be an online exhibition and evolved into a text heavy visual essay. In it we describe the story of how IG censors artists, erases the LGBTQ community, and shames women’s bodies.
The title, Instagram’s Shadow, underlines IG’s well documented “Shadow Ban” punishment. This unofficial policy keeps artists from reaching their audiences. It allows IG to throw a dark cloak over already marginalized communities, making them tangibly invisible. The shadow analogy is both psychological and quite literal. We included an artist shamed for sculpting plus-sized models, a cancer survivor, an artist/sex worker with over 3 million followers, a publisher of queer art books, and the inventor of the male nipple pasty. Using their stories we decode IG secret methods of censoring and throttling artists.
AS: Let’s take a closer look at Tiffany St Bunny’s work.
I love Bunny’s work. Their goals are to create a lasting visual archive of her radical queer and trans freak family. In 2016 Bunny founded an IG art project, TruckSlutsMag, that has grown to over 48,000 IG followers. It’s an aggressive response to homophobia and the white supremacist / nationalistic messaging of American truck lovers. Images from the project have been attacked on IG, in hateful comments and removal from the platform. This past October saw a large group of posts removed from @TruckSlutsMag. At one point even a fully clothed self portrait of the artist was taken down.
Bunny details how IG’s policy of removing content and protecting trolls is erasing the LGBTQ archives. This attack reminds one of the AIDS crisis. Bunny says that “When queer and trans people die, their histories and memories are often erased from the record by homophobic family members tasked with collecting the affects of the deceased. For the surviving family members, a death was often seen as an opportunity to sanitize the image of the deceased, and the AIDS crisis gave hundreds of thousands of opportunities to do just that. With very little effort, a person’s entire intimate history — a lifetime of love, pleasure and self-actualization — was scrubbed from the face of the earth.”
AS: What would you like to be the takeaway from this show?
I ask viewers to constantly fight and be vocal about who is represented on IG. In addition we must constantly question what we see on the platform. Think about how artists are censoring themselves, being forced to sterilize their posts to appease IG. Corporations thrive on sterilization. Social Media suckered us in by embracing “ niche communities”, they are now punishing us for being different. We are heading towards the glorification of centrist, sterile, picture ready couch art.
Instagram is a photo sharing site, AND a political tool. It’s clear that they are throttling certain opinions from your feed. So what does that say about the recent BLM protests? How easy would it be for the IG algorithm to start punishing those searching for equality? We must ask ourselves, who is next?
Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: email@example.com