Letter: But is it art?

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WE WRITE on behalf of the Council of University Deans of Arts and Humanities to express our deep concern over the confiscation by police of a book from the library stock of the University of Central England ("Are his pictures art?" 4 March).

Following referral of the publication to the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Crown Prosecution Service has advised police that they have grounds both to ask the university to destroy their copy of Mapplethorpe and to instruct its publishers Jonathan Cape/Random House to pulp all remaining copies. We believe that the possibility that the university may be prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act if they refuse to comply represents an astonishing assault on academic freedom.

One of the main functions - and responsibilities - of universities is surely to analyse culture in an objective and non-judgemental way.

Some of Robert Mapplethorpe's photographs are undoubtedly disturbing in their subject-matter, but he was a major contemporary artist-photographer, one whose art should be analysed and interrogated rather than censored or pulped. Furthermore, the context in which these images were brought to the attention of the police and the CPS was that of a serious research project; this alone should bear witness to the integrity and the legality of the university's position.

We earnestly hope that no further action will be taken in this case and that academic freedom may consequently be seen still to exist in the UK. There can be no doubt that if a prosecution does result, both the international standing and the intellectual and moral authority of British higher education will be seriously damaged.

We urge the authorities to drop all thought of dragging the UK and its universities back into an era of censorship and


Chair, CUDAH

Dean, Faculty of Arts, University College London


Arts Faculty Administrator

University College London