CALL FOR PAPERS | Revista de História da Arte 15 – SEX AND CENSORSHIP IN ART

“Gaye com Folhas Gu” (2015), de Ayrson Heráclito na exposição “Histórias da Sexualidade”, Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand (MASP). Cortesia portas vilaseca galeria.


How have social inhibitions and taboos been addressed by art throughout history? And today, in a climate marked by neoliberalism, and by such phenomena as the “hyper-sexualisation” of culture or the “pornification” of art itself, how are the limits of the permissible, of the “decent”, and of freedom of expression being considered? Within the framework of so-called Western civilization, these issues summon up the battles waged around tensions between art, eroticism and pornography. Intensifying as the twentieth century progressed, such tensions reveal how the limits of what is socially permitted have been tied to sexual explicitness and erotic representation.

It is in this context that a re-reading of “decency” and of obscenity standards has arisen, propelled by a renewed historiographical focus on the relationship between art and sexuality, focused on such controversial themes as censorship, prohibition and taboo. On the one hand, the decline of colonial power and the collapse of the Eastern bloc have released a considerable amount of fresh archival material that helps shed new light on the relationship between state control and artistic production. On the other, the phenomenon of globalisation, which allays institutional constraints and the limits imposed by national state policies, has triggered innovative debate about the very definition of censorship. The traditional perspective, according to which control of artistic production is perceived as ‘a state of exception’, is challenged by what has since been termed as “new censorship”.

This topic takes on redoubled importance in the wake of a recent wave of censorship acts on works of art and exhibits. Perpetrated by museums, the press, and social networks (especially Facebook and YouTube), this type of incident has increased, spreading to numerous forms of expression. From cinema to photography to painting, the impulse to supress has left no artform untouched and has ignited widespread debate in the public sphere. Positions are generally polarised between the safeguarding freedom of expression, and the values ​​of “decency”, “discretion” and the protection of the image of women and children against sexual objectification and exploitation. It is in this context that a few important voices warn of the dangers of a “neoconservative” puritanical climate that reactivates “surveillance” and “control” systems, directly affecting artistic production in its capacity as a positive transgressive agent. Concerns are raised with respect to freedom of expression and sexual liberty rights attained by the decisive struggles, and reflecting the bold claims, of feminist and LGBT movements.

We seek to understand how censorship of eroticism and of explicit sexuality has influenced the creation, circulation, exhibition, and interpretation of works of art in different contexts and geographies, and, in turn, how it is shaped by a wide-range of forces comprising political control, forms of institutionalisation, acts of transgression and multiple social-historical events.

Topics of interest include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Self-censorship;
  • The depiction of explicit sexual themes in visual arts, cinema, performance art, music and literature;
  • The conflicts arising from centuries of repression and the demonising of sex and sensuality;
  • The nude as a form of transgression;
  • Disciplining the artist, the artwork and exhibition;
  • Political and religious influences on censorship;
  • Examples of artists persecuted for obscenity;
  • Censored “sexual” sculpture in the public space and in the space of the museum;
  • Vandalism against nudity and sexuality in art;
  • The laws of censorship and self-censorship: court cases, community standards and “family values”;
  • Intimidation and pressure from lobbying groups;
  • Obscenity court cases brought against artists and artworks;
  • Examples of overt state censorship;
  • The tension between commitment to freedom of imagination and expression, and the disruptive power of provocative and controversial art;
  • How and in what circumstances can a work of art be apprehended as degrading and as direct insult to religious belief?
  • Art as censorship versus art as contestation;
  • The “pornographic” in the public domain;
  • Art as a pretext for pornography;
  • Pioneering feminist artists who played a crucial role in creating the “sex positive” attitudes that permeate the mainstream media today;
  • The constant battle against Facebook’s “no-nudity” politics.


Research Proposals are welcome until 30 November 2018.

Proposals should be sent in MS Word to (max 500-word, including the title and 4 keywords), followed by author’s name, affiliation, contact details, and a short biographical note (200 words).

Authors will be notified in January 2019.

The closing date for submission of full articles is 15 March 2019. These will be subjected to double-blind peer review and should follow the RHA editorial guidelines.

Accepted language: English



Bruno Marques is a postdoctoral research fellow at IHA, Universidade NOVA de Lisboa. Marques teaches in the Department of Art History (FCSH-UNL). His work focuses on the intersection of art, censorship and sex.

Érica Faleiro Rodrigues is a filmmaker and researcher at Birkbeck College, University of London. Faleiro Rodrigues’s current work addresses the dynamics between gender, film, politics, revolution and censorship.

Miguel Mesquita Duarte (PhD) is a member of IHA, Universidade NOVA de Lisboa. Mesquita Duarte’s work concentrates on such themes as archival art, the politics of memory, counter-narrativity, social and political censorship and voyeurism.