Should free speech protect images of animal cruelty?
By Amelia Ishmael
Robert J. Stevens has been sentenced to three years imprisonment. His crime? Selling videos Stevens, a Virginia-based author and documentary film producer was sentenced in 2005 for selling three educational videos titled Catch Dogs and Country Living, which were intended for use in the training of hunting dogs. The key evidence against Stevens was the inclusion of a historical clip of a dogfight filmed in Japan. Federal law makes it a crime to create, sell, or possess images depicting animal cruelty for commercial gain.
In July, the College Art Association joined with the National Coalition Against Censorship in support of Stevens’ appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. They argued that the 1999 law Stevens violated—Section 48 of Title 18—is not only unconstitutional but is a threat to artists, art historians, scholars, curators, conservators, collectors, educators, art publishers and other visual arts professionals.
The law in question was developed to help prevent animal cruelty by removing economic incentives. Critics say the law puts depicting animal cruelty in the same category as child pornography, criminalizing not only the acts, but also images of the acts.
Although the law exempts any expression of speech “that has serious political, scientific, educational, historical or artistic value,” critics worry about leaving the interpretation of serious value to prosecutors or juries. The brief by the CAA and NCAC say that the law places artists such as Hermann Nitsch, Adel Abdessemed and Wim Delvoye at risk of criminal prosecution. Hermann Nitsch is an Austrian performance artist whose work has included a crucified lamb. Adel Abdessemed is an artist based in New York who exhibited a video of animal fights earlier this year at the David Zwirner Gallery; a solo show of his work at the San Francisco Art Institute was canceled after protests by Bay Area animal rights groups. Wim Delvoye is a Belgian artist whose work includes tattooing pigs with images such as the Virgin Mary, the Louis Vuitton logo and Disney characters.
In addition the law could also be used against curators, publishers, collectors, and educators who reproduce images of these artists, exhibit their work with commercial interests, or own one of the artworks they create which include images of animals.
As they mention in the brief, “There is a real risk that prosecutors and jurors will fail to recognize the ‘serious value’ of conceptual and avant-garde art.” They mention as examples, the reception of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, 1917 (originally critiqued as immoral and vulgar), and Constantin Brancusi’s Bird in Flight (which a U.S. customs officer demanded Brancusi pay taxes on, as it was classified not as a piece of art- which could not be taxed- but only as “an article of metal” in the case of Constantin Brancusi vs. The United States of America, 1927-28.
During Stevens’s trial, he claimed that the dogfight clip in this video was included to show the difference between dogs trained to hunt verses those trained to fight. There is no evidence that he had part in inciting animal mistreatment, and he said he openly discourages dogfights. Yet, the court pointed to Stevens’s video as an example of unlawful profit made off of animal cruelty. Stevens asserted that the First Amendment protected his use of the images and, in 2008, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals supported Stevens claim and struck down Section 48 of Title 18 as unconstitutional.
As the Third District Court highlighted, the First Amendment “does not require speech to have serious value in order for it to fall under the First Amendment umbrella,” and the imposition of government to assess the value of speech violates the First Amendment. Examples of the wide breadth of image uses that this law could effect include educational and cultural depictions of Spanish bull-fighting, images of hunting and fishing out of season, news reporting of animal mistreatment, major motion pictures depicting scenes where animals appear to be harmed and historical religious images including animal sacrifice. As the Third Circuit Court pointed out in their hearing, Section 48 of Title 18 targets representations of crimes as the crimes themselves, provides courts with the power to determine and define serious value subjectively, and has the extremely dangerous potential to deter even protected speech by presenting severe penalties to ambiguous situations where a prosecutor or jury might interpret an expression to lack of “serious value.”
The Supreme Court will begin a hearing to discuss the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit’s overturn of the federal law on Tuesday, October 6, 2009.
Change You Can Believe In
By Julie Rodriguez
Even nine months into the Obama presidency, it may be difficult to sift through the heaps of extraneous media coverage to discover his successes and failures. With the health care reform bill stuck in Congress and Guantanamo still up and running, it may seem like the new administration has not made much practical progress in achieving its stated goals. So just what has Obama accomplished since January?
There are multiple websites dedicated to tracking the President’s progress on more than 500 campaign trail promises. According to PolitiFact.com’s “Obameter,” 34 of his promises have beenfulfilled. These include: expanding funding for AmeriCorps, banning lobbyists from giving gifts to employees of the executive branch, investing in alternative energy, increasing funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, expanding hate crime legislation to include sexual orientation and bringing a puppy into the White House.
Of course, President Obama can’t deliver on every promise made. So far he has retreated on seven promises. He has failed to eliminate income taxes for seniors making less than $50,000 a year. He has also rescinded his promise to allow five days of public comment before signing bills, negotiate health-care reform in televised sessions on C-SPAN and formally recognize the Armenian genocide. According to the “Obameter,” 374 of the President’s promises are still rated as “no action.”
There is reason to be optimistic. Compromises have been reached on a dozen of Obama’s proposed policies, and over 70 are currently in the works. Some of these goals—such as withdrawing troops from Iraq—will take time to achieve, and many of the specific promises he has made are part of larger reform efforts.
photos by Rachel Sima Harris
SAIC Fashion Show 2009
April 23 and 24th marked the 75th anniversary of one of SAIC’s most renowned events, the Fashion Show, but for the first time, rather than have the fashion show exhibited on a catwalk, the models walked along a maze of work by MFA graduates in the recently opened Sullivan Galleries. The showcase of over 200 garments (one guest commented “more wearable-art than clothing”), was broken up into three parts with performances from the SAIC Performance department. The combination of MFA graduate artwork, performance art, and fashion went along way towards demonstrating why SAIC claims to be an interdisciplinary institution.
From my seat in the show I could see 30 feet of the catwalk and three exhibition pieces. Even with the narrow view, the clothing was breathtaking, and even thought-provoking.
The sophomore collection, with it’s imposed limitations in cloth and color, managed to produce very original and captivating pieces. I loved Alexis Mondragon’s white cotton sculptural top and skirt with exposed boning and pink lining that she writes was “inspired by the recession… symbolizing the loss of jobs, homes and empty store fronts.” Other unforgettable pieces included Bonnie Alayne Fraser’s gorgeous white and pink cotton top and skirt with vines and petals, and Erin Pianetto’s charming hooded white cotton jumper complete with hundreds of cascading ovals and circles that she says was “inspired by clown costumes.” But if I were to wear one home I would have had to go with the lavish, extraordinarily feminine white cotton shirt and skirt by Maggie Burke.
The junior collection made good use of the wider variety of fabrics, particularly Andrea Ball’s multi-fabric patterned dresses that were inspired by “the Egunun festival of the Yoruba Tribe of West Africa,” Luis Antonio Rodrigeuz’s white silk organza geometric pieces and Katie King’s silk crepe and recycled wool pieces. Among the most wearable pieces were Libby Lane’s elegant, sophisticated and playfully preppy clothing for men and women.
The senior collection, too varied to describe in this brief article, was stunning. You needn’t have read Monika Hadioetomo’s artist statement to know her beautiful white silk pieces were inspired by her conception of heaven, or that Kelly Kroner’s odd multi-tonal shrouds were cultural commentaries. Jessica Mikesell had a particularly fun take on Hip Hop with her “street wear” inspired pieces and Jessica Rodriquez drew much applause for her amazing multicolored paneled cloaks and headdresses.
Combining the fashion show, performance pieces, and the MFA exhibition proved to be a triumph of the imagination. I’ve heard complaints about this years non-traditional showcase but I’d contend that if the goal of the show was to demonstrate the maximum amount of student creativity being produced this year at SAIC and to reference the myriad of artistic explorations that influence fashion students at the school, the show was a dazzling success.
13-Year-Old Somali Rape Victim Stoned
In late October, a young Somali girl who had reported being raped by three men was accused of adultery and stoned to death before an audience of 1,000 spectators. The local Islamist militia controlling the city of Kismayu operates under Shariah law, a system under which rape accusations must be supported by four male witnesses in order to be considered valid. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to prove that a rape has occurred and is often tantamount to a death sentence for the woman involved, as her report of rape may be used as proof of adultery or fornication.
The girl was buried in a hole up to her neck and pelted by about 50 men with stones. Amnesty International has confirmed the girl’s identity as 13-year-old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow. Her age was initially reported as 23 years by witnesses based on her appearance, but Amnesty says that her father has confirmed she was a child. None of the men implicated by Aisha have been arrested.
Some of the more horrific details which have emerged include militia members opening fire on bystanders who attempted to stop the stoning and save her life, resulting in the death of a young boy. Eyewitness accounts also indicate that nurses were instructed to determine whether Aisha was still alive during the proceedings — so they removed her from the ground, announced that she was, and buried her again so that the stoning could continue.
The Global Campaign to Stop Killing and Stoning Women is encouraging those horrified by this crime to “write a letter to the representatives of Somalia, the African Union, and various UN human rights offices to encourage them to take action by investigating this murder, bringing the perpetrators to justice, and denouncing the actions of these insurgents.” Contact information and a sample letter are available on their website.
Women With Disabilities At Greater Risk For Domestic Abuse
A recent study shows that women with disabilities are more likely to experience abuse from an intimate partner than able-bodied women. Women with disabilities were 17% more likely to experience some form of intimate partner violence in their lifetime, and 10% more likely to report a history of unwanted sex, 13% more likely to be threatened with violence, and 15% more likely to being hit, slapped, kicked, or otherwise physically hurt.
The author of the study, Dr. Brian Armor, talked to Reuters speculating on the reasons why this may be the case.
“Perhaps, women with disabilities are vulnerable to intimate partner violence because their disability might limit mobility and prevent escape; shelters might not be available or accessible to women with disabilities; the disability might adversely affect communication and thus the ability to alert others or the perpetrator might control or restrict the victim’s ability to alert others to the problem.”