French sculptor Stéphane Simon's "In Memory of Me" series was displayed in Paris during UNESCO's European Heritage Days event. The United Nations' cultural agency had covered the sculpted genitalia with underwear. Understandably, the UN is being criticized for tampering with Simon’s work, and in turn, his message.
Simon was shocked, art commentators were furious.
"I should have spent two days explaining the fascinating link between the practice of selfie-taking and Ancient Greek history,” Simon told CNN.
But art should be able to speak for itself, without being shushed.
Simon said the clothing was "disgusting" and said the experience left him "humiliated."
"I felt ashamed, so deeply sad to see all these years of work and research broken," he added. "For two days visitors came to meet, to ask me, 'But why did you do that?' But it was not my choice."
Apparently, Simon had raised the issue of nudity during planning meetings with UNESCO before the event, but had not been asked to cover up the works until a few days before the sculptures were displayed. He had no time to “fix” the pieces with his vision and UNESCO’s issue."In Memory Of Me" took 3 years to curate.
A spokesperson was quoted saying: "We didn't want to censor the artist, and understand that he felt hurt."
The stunning and smart project holds a universal resonance, with its summary statement saying: “Everyone recognizes that we are experiencing a major technological revolution each day impacting more the very nature of our human behaviors. In our current environment focused on visual and virtual, images and the recent phenomenon of selfies submerge us. In no time, the practice of selfie has become a mass phenomenon, collectively fully absorbed, revealing the evolution of the status of the subject itself. This generalized practice of self-portrait conveys in fact a global and major anthropological shift.
Cell phones have become a true extension of ourselves, and the transcultural generalization of selfies (more than a million of new selfies posted everyday on social networks) raises the questions of the place, the usefulness and the power of images in our contemporary societies.”
It continues: "Such a self-staging, at arm's length, generates the emergence of a catalog of new gestures at a global scale, incorporating expressions, meaning and use at a level unparalleled in the history of humanity... instruments of power, knowledge, entertainment, care or seduction, smartphones have replaced both in function and symbolism, Zeus lightening bolt, Apollon’s lyre or Hermes caduceus."
Many criticized the exhibition's decision for being puritanical.
“That’s how the fall of the Roman Empire began,” one tweet said.